Committee (1st Day)
My Lords, the next business is the first day of Committee on the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill. I will call Members to speak in the order listed. During the debate on each group, I invite Members, including Members in the Chamber, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister. I will call Members to speak in order of request. The groupings are binding. Participants who might wish to press an amendment other than the lead amendment in a group to a Division must give notice in the debate or by emailing the clerk. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely wants their voice accounted for if the Question is put, they must make this clear when speaking on the group.
Clause 1: Local skills improvement plans
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end insert “potential students resident in and”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to ensure that the interests of students whose needs are not encompassed by local employers are included.
My Lords, I declare an interest as editor of The Good Schools Guide and a member of City & Guilds Council.
I welcome the local skills improvement plans. A strong link between local business and local skills provision for local people is a very good idea; it will build a set of relationships which will be long-lasting and much valued. However, how exactly do the Government think this process is going to work? I hope that the Minister will be able to give us an outline of how the Government now see the local skills improvement plans actually working. Are they intended to be comprehensive, covering the entire needs of an area, or are they sector-specific, as I understand some of the bids for the pilots are? Are they intended to be inclusive of independent training providers? Will the local FE college be the dominant force or just a part? Is it intended that funds will be channelled through the local skills improvement plans? If they will, at what sort of level and with what sort of scope? How do the Government see this working in terms of local relationships? How exactly will the local skills improvement plans be held to account for their results? Will the decisions they reach be easily open to challenge, and if so, how? What is the interface locally with careers information advice and guidance and the Careers & Enterprise Company? There are a lot of things I would like to understand better about the direction in which the Government are intending to take us.
Whatever those answers, there is one big thing missing from the Bill: the interests of potential students, and that is what my amendment addresses. I want to see a reference to what local people need, from their point of view. The young people in Eastbourne, where I live, are pretty average—they are not in any way lacking compared to the national average. Business in Eastbourne, however, which is a coastal community, is typically very skewed. There are some areas in which we are very strong—hospitality, obviously, building and allied trades, education—but when it comes to cyber-security, IT generally, engineering, writing, creative careers, and management and science-based careers, all of which go on in London, there is really not much around. This is not surprising or unusual, but many of these are the growth areas of the economy. It is absolutely in the best interests of our people here—not only the young people, but career-changers and others—that they have good access to the skills necessary to those parts of the economy, not least because it will encourage such businesses to move down here or, in the new fashion of remote working, employ people here. That way, we as a community will have access to the more prosperous, higher growth, higher wage parts of the economy that we do not currently have.
The interests of individual people, potential students, are not congruent with those of employers and providers. In the interests of our people, we must offer training locally in the main growth areas of the economy. I do not mind whether it is through independent training providers or remote training, but it must be substantially good.
I will not speak at length to the other amendments in this group, many of which I have a lot of sympathy for, except to mention that in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, on getting people a base level of skills in maths and English. That is absolutely key to raising the level of the economy locally. Somebody locally must have responsibility for that. We need something better than GCSEs here. GCSEs are aimed at the requirements of an academic curriculum; what we need is a test aimed at the base skills needed by employers. Those are two different things. We test English competence extremely well when students come to this country or want to be employed as doctors, for example. We have skills-centred tests aimed at establishing competence. We need something like that for our own people in English and maths, so that everybody has a chance of getting through and we do not continue to suffer the comparable outcomes system, which condemns 40% of our young people to having substandard English and maths qualifications. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the very clear introduction to this group from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Having listened to his explanation, I rather regret not having attached my name to his amendment, as the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, did. He really has nailed the key problem with this Bill and the reason for many of these amendments: the Government’s focus on employers, presumably existing employers, fails to explain how a local skills improvement plan can actually help an area to improve. By focusing on potential students, Amendment 1 really helps us to think about how people might also want to get the skills to be part of communities, to run community groups, to be involved in cultural activities or to be voters or parents. All of these are areas in which people might want to improve their skills. It would also help communities that are subject to the Government’s levelling-up agenda, which are often lacking in social capital. We are talking about skills that pretty well every community is short of. Any community group that any noble Lord has ever known has had to find a treasurer—someone who is prepared to take on doing the books, even if there is not much money in those books. These are skills that every community needs, but they might not actually be a business need.
However, I shall speak chiefly to Amendment 2, which is in my name. It tries to get at another aspect of the Bill addressing the so-called economy by adding in to consult in the skills improvement plans
“potential employers, start-up businesses and the self-employed.”
Looking at recent figures from the pre-Covid time, there were 5 million self-employed in the UK, up from 3.2 million in 2000. They are a very major part of our workforce and, if they are running a business, what they may need to help them find work, and improve the work that they find, is not necessarily going to be reflected by the employers in a town. I think here of a very old-fashioned term, perhaps—the “company town”.
A few years ago, I visited Barrow-in-Furness where the top employer, by a scale of many thousands, is of course the shipyards. The next two biggest employers, of around 1,000 each, are the largest supermarket and the local hospital. Barrow-in-Furness, as I said when I was there, clearly needs to diversify its economy and develop things such as local food-growing and tourism businesses, through all kinds of objectives. How are those three top employers going to provide advice on the skills needed for that?
At the moment, the Bill feels really half baked. I am in a difficult position in speaking before many of these amendments have been explained, but I support the sentiments behind them all. I shall pick out a couple briefly. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said about the two amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker—particularly, perhaps, Amendment 81, which has broad support—the focus on the attainment gap is crucial. There are many people whom schooling has failed in the past; they need support with the right kind of courses, the right way to improve and lift their skills, not just for their jobs but for their lives.
I also particularly support Amendments 20 and 21, both of which address, in different ways, distance learning. We are not going to be able to put into every village and town every course that might be of use to everyone. It is crucial that we have, in the Open University, a very successful and important structure; something that people can use to advance their knowledge, as well as their skills, and get into the practice of lifelong learning. That is such a crucial skill that we are going to need for the coming decades. The number of amendments tabled to this clause really shows that the Government need to go away, having listened to today’s debate, and think about how they can improve not just the Bill, but their thinking about how we provide the skills needed for a very different age.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 11 and 81. I also support the first three amendments spoken to, and I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for my amendments. I declare interests as a fellow and former chair of the Working Men’s College, chair of the education department’s stakeholders’ group and other relevant interests as in the register.
The rationale of my amendments is that this potentially most useful Bill will not have the national impact it might, unless more provision is made to get a very large number of young people and others to the starting block. Amendments 11 and 81 are designed to do just that. I am most grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. The reason they are not speaking is entirely due to the complexity of arrangements, which I fervently hope will be simplified in September. They all tried to put their names forward. I also thank the Association of Colleges for its helpful advice.
At Second Reading, I set out the fact that more than one-third of young people in secondary school do not achieve the requisite GCSE grades in English and maths to qualify for entry to the further education and training so enticingly proposed in the Bill. I asked the Minister what provision had been or could be made for this very large number who, for various reasons, among which lack of innate ability has not been cited, could not access the educational opportunities in the Bill. She was not able to give me an answer, nor did one appear in the letter she helpfully sent to Peers after Second Reading, and nor have I had a reply to a request I made to her team for an answer. As this is unusual for the noble Baroness, I conclude that there is no answer and there are no such comprehensive arrangements in place.
Current arrangements do provide for resits of GCSEs, but this is not working. It is clearly a strain on young people, whose funding is complex, and on FE colleges, where most resits take place and which on average have more than 1,000 taking them, only for an average of 75% to fail again. Schools have even more of a gap now, after the effects of the lockdown. Our public examination systems in schools were long predicated on failing a proportion—now a discredited policy—but it is especially absurd and unjust when it crops up again in those skills which enable earning a living. Among those who fail are a large proportion of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma young people, as well as those from other minority ethnic groups, and people of all ages, for other reasons unconnected with ability. This is without counting those who dropped out even before the exam years.
This is not only a matter of stark inequality; it is a deeply concerning national educational failure which ignores potential, hampers life chances and deprives our economy of its full power. It is a devastating waste of our greatest national asset: our young people. So, our Amendment 81 would require the Government to fulfil the Prime Minister’s promise that no child shall be left behind, and to devise a national strategy to enable very many more of our young people to make the jump into useful and rewarding qualifications. Amendment 11 proposes a corresponding duty on providers and employer bodies to have regard to this strategy, so that it is locally implemented.
We do not prescribe details: there are several causes for failure, and there could be different arrangements for foundation courses and funding; there could be tutoring and mentoring; and there could be elements in teacher training and the Office for Students targeted at addressing the obstacles students face, which in some cases, notably that of Gypsies, Travellers and Roma young people, include cultural prejudice. The Runnymede Trust’s latest report says that only 12% of secondary school teachers have any material on how to talk about race in their initial teacher training. There are willing and expert hands in institutions and there is capacity in the department to work out a strategy. It is political will that is required. There is ample scope for levelling up here.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 1 and 6, to which I have added my name, and to Amendment 20 in my name and that of my colleague and noble friend Lord Storey. I declare an interest for the whole Bill: I am a vice-president of City & Guilds, an organisation for which I worked for some 20 years.
On Amendments 1 and 6, I have been crossing out what I would have said as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has said it far more effectively than I could. I do not believe in repeating what others have said, even if I have not said it myself, so I shall just agree with what he said. It is essential that we take into account potential students—and not just the young people of Eastbourne, I suggest—who should surely be important players in any discussion. If there are no students, there is no point in employers wishing to train them. It is not just the views and interests of students but those of student unions, trade unions, relevant community groups, agencies and local government that need to be taken into account. There should also be constant dialogue with careers advisers.
Funding must be made available for social mobility. An aspiring blacksmith or chef should not be disadvantaged if local needs are engineering-based. Dyslexic students should not be disadvantaged if their skillset is different from local needs. Amendment 20 ensures that providers of distance learning are brought into play. As the Explanatory Notes set out, the role in the local skills ecosystem played by providers without a local bricks and mortar presence in a particular area is taken into account in local skills improvement plans. Of course, it may not be bricks and mortar. It could be any skills area, but distance learning is truly important, as the work of the Open University and other distance providers makes clear. The OU has been a life-changer for many who could not study residentially.
Often, people may wish to study for employment not directly available in their area but for which they can develop skills and earn qualifications which will serve them well in other parts of the country. We should not be depriving them of the wherewithal to do just that. Throughout the Bill we shall seek to ensure that distance learning is taken into account. This amendment will do that and provide opportunities for learning to those without local provision.
I add my support to Amendments 11 and 81, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, a staunch supporter of the Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities, but these proposals go much broader, to those who have problems with GCSE English and maths which, for so many skill areas, are not essential. To have an academic qualification in English and maths is not necessary for a whole range of perfectly useful employment opportunities. I also support the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Addington, who will be following me to speak for himself. They are important amendments too.
I hope that the Minister will be able to look favourably on the amendments in this group.
My Lords, this is one of those debates when everybody has said and everybody is going to agree with everybody, so let try to do it in as precised a way as possible. Before, I do, I should remind the Committee of my declared interests and let the Committee know that I have become an adviser to Genius Within, which looks at neurodiversity with Birkbeck, University of London.
The basic thrust of this is: what will be put into the plans, how flexible will it be and how will it adjust to the needs of those people who are supposed to be covered by it? We have heard about many subjects. When someone mentions dyslexia in front of me in one of these debates, I give myself a little cheer because, hopefully, the word is getting out.
The most important thing about my Amendment 22, if you throw everything away, is identification. Most people in the neurodiverse sector or with any special educational need have moderate or lower-level needs that, if not addressed or supported, can lead to failure to get academic qualifications giving access to training. The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and I might argue about GCSEs and certain points, but the essential thrust of what she said carries through to these groups. Someone who has trouble in that learning environment will always have trouble. If we suddenly get—as I did with the officials who the Minister was kind enough to give me access to, for which I am eternally thankful—“Oh but we have a high-needs strategy”, well, that is great, but what happens to the 18% of the population who are identified as having special educational needs but who are not in the high-needs group? They will become your workforce. They are the people who are underachieving and either do not get jobs or get jobs which they do not fulfil or can access other qualifications with.
Please, when we are doing this, can we build in a capacity to identify people who have already failed in the school system? As adults, they will be presenting differently, with established types of behaviour, which may mean that they are resistant to certain activities because who on earth wants to be told again: “You’ve failed, you can’t do something”? Let us take everybody who is scared of heights and stick them up that ladder and shake it. Let us make sure that it is uncomfortable and that something that you do not like to have gone through again. What will happen about identifying the people in these groups, people with ADHD, people who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, with parents with the same problems, who do not have the type of parents that I had behind me?
I appreciate that this is all that you can do here, but what steps will be taken to ensure that everybody gets through and is supported? The idea that you need only a functional grasp of English and maths is a step forward, but we must embrace the fact that there is now technology available that can do most of this for you, at least at a functional level. If you can talk, you can word-process now. Can we ensure that this is taken into account in the plans because the groups who are unskilled, which we are addressing, will be helped?
My Amendment 26 is about looking slightly wider than just at one area. It came from a conversation that I had with someone at the British Dyslexia Association, who said, if someone feels that they would be happier in something that uses hand skills and is slightly out of area, please can they be supported to get there? This is true of virtually all groups but is probably slightly more intense in this situation. If you are living in an area which is just on the boundary, the thing that you may want to train in is probably in the next area. All of us have done this for schools to work. Arguments about constituency boundaries go to an audience where many may have an interest. Can we please take that into account? When the Minister comes to answer, or at a later stage, can he give some idea of how these group plans or areas of concentration will work together? If they do not, we will be excluding large numbers of people from getting the support that they need where that is a local employment opportunity for them. We are still assuming that they will stay in their local areas for jobs for long periods. If we are doing that, then let us at least be realistic about it.
My Lords, I support these amendments and the thrust of the debate so far, particularly with what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said in moving the amendment, every word of which I agreed with, as I have with most of the other speakers so far, so I will try not to repeat myself.
There is something of a dilemma. It is very difficult to be against a local skills plan, and I am not. It is a really good thing. I believe in this notion of place, which I think we have lost recently in school and skills. It is very important, and I can see that these local skills partnerships adopt that notion of place and that one place is different from others. I am absolutely in favour of that. It is very difficult to argue against employers being involved, and I would not. I have moved, over the course of this debate, from being very much in favour of those two things to having difficulty visualising what it will be like when it is in a good form. The more you talk about it, the most difficulties you see emerging. I hope that this means no more than that there are a lot of details to sort out. I am not trying to be difficult on this, but I wonder whether a number of issues will be resolved by this structure.
I shall raise two concerns reflecting the debate so far, which are around whether an employer-led body is likely to deal with these issues. It is not that they cannot be dealt with, but employers are different organisations, representing different things and have different experiences. It might be that in some circumstances they are not the best to deal with certain issues. My first concern regards Amendment 1 and potential students. Are current employers with current businesses the best people to scope the future economy? I am not saying that they have nothing to offer, because they do, but they have got a lot to protect in the here and now. A successful employer will be successful only if he or she scopes the future, but it is an uneasy thing that we are having to do. I would welcome the Minister’s comments on that. How do we keep their eyes to the future if they are leading this plan?
The second is: is an employer-led skills plan going to be the most effective at looking after the groups of people who are often left out, whether it is the Travellers, the underachievers, the marginalised or those who have not got qualifications? The traditional role of employers is often as gatekeepers: they let the successful through to be their employees, but they do not have an ongoing responsibility for the ones they have rejected. They often fall to other organisations, which have or develop the experience to deal with them.
My worry over that is: in an employer-led skills plan, where will the knowledge, experience and capacity come from to support and skill up those people who have not got the basic qualifications or skills to be part of the current skills plan? I would include in that digital learning, which other people have referred to, and the Open University in particular, because from my own experience I know that because organisations such as the Open University are so different from other institutions in how they work, they very often get left out of legislation, and you end up trying to solve the problem of having excluded them later on.
My last point is this: when you look through the Bill, it is often the case that local plans will have to have regard to national plans, national frameworks and national guidance. So when does a local plan stop being a local plan and just become a mirror image of everyone else’s local plan, which makes up the national plan? My question to the Minister on that would be: how brave are the Government going to be in allowing local plans to do their own thing, which might not always accord with the national plan? Who is going to prioritise this big list of things they have to do, and what will the Government do to welcome innovation, which might be ideas they themselves have not yet thought of?
My Lords, this Bill is largely a Bill in search of a policy, and indeed a Bill that is a substitute for policy. It does almost nothing that actually requires legislation. As far as I can tell, there is only one aspect that actually requires a change of the law to be accomplished, which is the extension of student loans to further education courses—a reform I support. But all the rest of it is the enshrining in legislation of policy goals—some of which are inherently contradictory —which do not require legislation at all.
I am surrounded by former Ministers on all sides, and we all know that whenever you do not have a policy and cannot quite work out what to do, but want to proclaim a priority, you produce a Bill. The Civil Service loves producing Bills. It has Bill teams. The one thing you can do from Whitehall and that big building on Great Smith Street is produce reams of paper—White Papers, Bills and all that. It does not actually mean you do anything to improve skills levels in the country, but you do produce Bills and White Papers and requirements on other people to produce plans and so on themselves.
In my experience of big change in education, the biggest changes are usually produced by the smallest pieces of legislation that focus in particular on funding—because the one thing the Government control in this is funding. In parenthesis, further education funding is declining; let us not get away from that. No amounts of legislation, no White Papers extending to whatever this latest one is—it is in very large type, but it extends to 73 pages—can make up for the fact that funding is being cut. There is some opportunity for substituting public funding with private funding through the loans scheme, but public funding is being cut.
That is one way you can do it. The second is by great ministerial and Civil Service drive on the ground, which we desperately need in this sector. But this sector has had, by my calculation, one Minister of Further Education each year since 2010. The only one who was any good was sacked and now chairs the Select Committee in the House of Commons—I think because he was actually too committed to making a reality of further education.
The one big reform in this area, which is the apprenticeship levy, has been so badly mishandled that, astonishingly, it has managed to lead to a decline in the number of apprentices, particularly at entry level, which is the area where we have the biggest skills failures. So this is an absolutely farcical piece of legislation. The Minister has my deep commiserations on having to spend hour after hour camped in this House proclaiming mantras and platitudes that will have been written for her by civil servants and will do absolutely zero to improve further education or the skills level.
Producing local skills improvement plans does not require legislation. The Government could today announce —and, with funding, incentivise and require—public authorities to do them. I can assure noble Lords that employers’ bodies, if some money was waved in front of them, would willingly co-operate in the production of local skills improvement plans. So legislation is absolutely not necessary.
But, because one always hopes the Government are actually producing a policy that is well thought out and crafted and has a proper chain of connection between the conception of the policy and the levers, goals and outcomes, I actually read the White Paper. It is always a big mistake to read the actual policy statement that underpins the legislation. The White Paper says on page 14, in one of its many platitudinous statements:
“At the moment, employers do not have enough influence over the skills provision offered in their local area or enough say in how all technical training and qualifications are developed.”
We are then referred to footnote 14, which states:
“See for example England’s Skills Puzzle: Piecing Together Further Education Training & Employment (Policy Connect Learning & Work Institute, 2020.”
Well, I read that report. It is not a survey of employers; it is not even a proper study of employers. It is a report of an ad hoc commission chaired by Conservative MP Sir John Hayes, one of the former Ministers of Further Education. Having done a few dipstick surveys in different parts of the country, it makes five recommendations, none of which is for these local skills improvement plans.
The first of the five recommendations is that there should be national targets, monitored by the new skills and productivity board in the way the Climate Change Commission monitors its targets. I am not up on the creation of the latest quangos, so I am not yet fully familiar with the skills and productivity board. No doubt the Minister will tell us what this new quango is doing. But that does not require this reform. The second recommendation is for further devolution of budgets. That may be a worthwhile thing to do but, since the budgets are declining, that does not inherently help. As King Lear told us:
“Nothing will come of nothing,”
But, in any case, devolving budgets does not require these skills plans; it can be done by fiat from the department tomorrow.
The third recommendation is further funding incentives for collaboration—which, again, can be done without any of these local skills improvement plans. The fourth is a national campaign to recruit teachers to further education. I entirely support that; again, it does not require this reform. The fifth is piloting personal learning accounts. I strongly urge the Government to be cautious about that one; some of us on this side of the House are deeply scarred by things called individual learning accounts, which turned out to be a massive scam for rapidly created local skills organisations to cream off all the money. They certainly should not go there at all; the extension of the student loans reform would be much better. So the statements that underlie this are not rooted in any evidence base.
We then come to the skills plans themselves. I thought that, since this Government are deeply versed in evidence-based policy, they would have piloted these properly so we can see: what these local skills plans are going to look like; what employer bodies are going to produce them; and what the relationships are with the local further education colleges, the mayoral authorities and the other public authorities. I thought we could perhaps read one or two of them. I am very keen to read them because, from my experience of the centre trying to mandate other people to produce plans, it is not the bodies charged with producing the plans that produce the plans; it is consultants employed by the bodies, who are paid a fortune and have no responsibility whatever for delivery of any of the outcomes. Some of us on this side of the House will remember the words “education action zones.” A whole army of consultants grew up to produce the plans for education action zones, which led to precious little further education and no action—except by the people producing the plans for the education action zones, who made tens of millions of pounds. I see this happening again.
But I thought, “Well, maybe it’s being piloted”. So I googled “pilots,” because the White Paper’s pages 15 and 16 refer to pilots of these local skills improvement plans. The pilots have not started. There was an article on 20 April in a magazine called FE Week—which is after my time, a new entrant to the block, and seems to provide a lot of good information on what is going on—and the headline was:
“Hunt begins for ‘employer representative bodies’ to pilot local skills improvement plans.”
There is not long between 20 April and 6 July, but none of these bodies has yet appeared. It turns out that these local skills improvement plans are to be piloted in six to eight “trailblazer” areas. “Trailblazers” is a word the Government always use when they want to proclaim action when absolutely nothing is happening—so we are having six to eight trailblazers that do not exist.
Now, bids for those trailblazers, which are to be backed by £4 million of revenue funding—all of which will go to the consultants charged with writing these plans—were being sought by 25 May. Perhaps the Minister can tell us how many bids had been entered by that date, give us some description of who they are, tell us when they will start and tell us what indication there is that they will be coherent. I do not want to detain the Committee unduly, but all the indications as to who the bodies are reference bodies that do not exist at the moment.
We have a whole box on page 15 headed “Case study: German Chambers of Commerce”. I strongly welcome the Government’s study of Germany and aligning more closely with the European Union; it is something that I have spent my political life seeking to do. If we had taken our membership of the European Union more seriously and done a better job of learning from the Scandinavian countries, Holland and Germany, our skills system would have made a much better start. So it is good that, as we leave Europe, we none the less regard as a model for policy the German Chambers of Commerce. However, there is nothing in these proposals that will lead to anything like the construction of the German Chambers of Commerce. There is no statutory power for the establishment of chambers of commerce. There is no requirement on employers to be members of these bodies and no public duties are imposed on them.
So who are the bodies that will be the skills-based bodies that will produce these local skills improvement plans? I should say “employer bodies” because the Government say that they must be employer bodies. Who are they? I look forward to the Minister telling us so that, by the time we come to Report, we will have been able to test this and perhaps propose a few amendments—perhaps, indeed, to remove this entire provision, save the public tens of millions of pounds and have some real action in terms of further education skills and what they will be.
My further remark is one that causes me real concern. The one area of policy that has at least taken some steps forward in this area over the past 10 years is the development of the mayors. For the first time, we actually have public authorities outside London with some real strength and political credibility. Andy Street is a great guy and is doing a fantastic job in Birmingham and the West Midlands. There is Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester. Ben Houchen has created a big name for himself and is perhaps the only major recognisable political figure apart from Tony Blair to have come out of the north-east in recent times. This is very welcome. It is something that, at the political level, England desperately needs.
However, the one body specifically banned from producing these local skills improvement plans—I must get the jargon right—are the mayors. The reason why, it turns out, is that they are not employers. Well, as a definitional thing, obviously they are not employers—they are mayors—but they are the people who have the capacity to generate real activity and engagement by employers and colleges in a serious way. They should be tasked with this mission, but instead they are totally isolated from the process on the grounds that they are not employers and the Government want to be promoting employers.
Instead, in paragraph 8 on page 16 of the White Paper, Mayor Burnham, Mayor Street and Mayor Sadiq Khan—very big political figures whom we want to seize this agenda—are told this:
“Mayoral Combined Authorities will be consulted in the development of these plans.”
That is a fat lot of good, is it not? The most dynamic, potentially active and crucial agents of the state—they are also the people who, as public authorities, are closest to employers—are simply going to be consulted by bodies that do not for the most part exist at the moment. They are going to engage consultants who also do not exist; I suppose at least the consultants can engage with the consultees quite easily because they both have “consult” at the root of their job descriptions. However, the one thing that this is not going to do of its own volition is produce more skills education and training.
My noble friend Lady Whitaker made the point that the fundamental problems with the education system in these areas—I look at the noble Lord, Lord Baker, who wrestled with these problems 40 years ago; we wrestled with them too—is that basic skills are still too low and we have do not have high-quality apprenticeship routes for those who do not go on to university. This is not rocket science. It is simple. If we got this right, employers would be cheering from the rafters and we would not need this whole new panorama of local skills improvement plans, which I suspect will simply lead us to have exactly the same debates with very little progress having been made in 10 years’ time.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and I have argued over so many things over so many years that it is not true but, I must say, that was a bravura performance. He raised some very important issues, particularly in relation to whether we need this legislation or whether legislation is being used as a substitute for strategy. I note in particular his point about the lack of funding for FE and the fact that there is a danger that this legislation will simply be a way of signalling an approach but not helping in practical terms. I thought that he did an excellent job; it was like the emperor’s new clothes being exposed there. However, I want to correct him on one point. We have not left Europe; we have left the EU. As a Brexiteer, I am a great fan and advocate of German vocational education, as a matter of fact.
First, I apologise for not speaking at Second Reading. My IT skills rather failed me; I should probably go on a course. I thought that I had listed myself online, but I had failed to press the right button.
I support the aspirations of this Bill. It is close to my heart because, as a former further education lecturer—a sector that is too often treated as a Cinderella sector—I hope that further education will at last arrive at the ball. However, ironically, aspects of this Bill could limit opportunities, which is one reason why I am particularly sympathetic to Amendments 1, 2 and 6 in this group and the remarks initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.
I want to avoid making a Second Reading speech. However, I want to make a broad point about a distinction that it is important to remember as we go through all the amendments on Report and which represents why I want the Bill to avoid being overly narrow or prescriptive about outcomes, as this can backfire and lead to unintended consequences. While we are focusing on the neglected areas of vocational qualifications, skills and training, one danger is that we assume that certain social groups of young people are just not cut out for academic education. In the skills and training discussion—that is, when we talk about how we can target people and help them with skills and training—it is too often assumed that we are talking about working-class youth. This is dangerously deterministic and has already put pressure on schools in certain social areas to see education as preparation for the labour market, which cuts against the principle of building a society or education based on merit.
To state it baldly, every child has a right to an academic education until the age of 16, in my opinion, and even if they choose not to pursue an academic route after that, they are entitled to be introduced to the best that is thought and known. This allows every young person, whether they end up as a plumber or a philosopher, access through schooling to a working knowledge of cultural capital, history, literature, the scientific method and so on. The trainee hairdressers and car mechanics to whom I taught literature were more than the jobs that they eventually acquired. We should be wary of a narrowly instrumental version of vocationalism, as it can limit opportunities and aspirations.
One concern that I have about the Bill is that it focuses too narrowly on the skills required by local employers; this has already been raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. I mean no disrespect to them, but local employers can be short-term and short-sighted and do not always see the long view. As these amendments—the ones that I am supporting—emphasise, local employers may not always be best placed to see the bigger picture. In turn, that can narrow the options for students.
For example, take a geographical area traditionally associated with the fishing industry—an area in which I would like to see more investment in terms of apprenticeships and so on. Are we to assume that the locality will only ever need skills related to fishing? Also, there may well be more future-oriented skills that are not needed as yet but could create new industries, such as marine biology.
Of course, it sounds positive when the DfE says that the Bill will meet
“the need of local areas … so people no longer have to leave their home-towns to find great jobs.”
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, made the point about place; I am very keen on remembering that. I like the soundbite about improving communities rather than just providing a ladder out of them, but it would also be wrong to confine people, or even trap them, into jobs related to the needs of the locality they live in. If you live in a largely agricultural area but aspire to be an engineer in car manufacturing, or to work in construction in the city, will you be able to access skills that allow you to move if we confine the skills available to those that only the local employers decide on? If you are an inner-city youth who dreams of working in farming, will you be able to access skills if local bosses cannot imagine ever needing or training someone to pursue such an agricultural career? Amendments 1 and 6 and their motivation by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, tackle these issues and the potentially limiting anomalies in the Bill.
More generally, one of the ironies of focusing on catering for local needs is that it limits who decides on local priorities just to local employers. It takes power away not only from students locally, as has been mentioned, but from local civic leaders—we have heard about mayors being excluded—and local further education college principals. Tom Bewick, chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies, calls this a top-down power grab on qualifications. He says:
“It is regrettable that the provisions in this Bill and the government’s wider qualifications review seeks to stifle investment, innovation and choice in the future by effectively nationalising technical qualifications via a Whitehall-driven, top-down, command and control approach.”
Certainly, as later amendments try to address, the Bill introduces new regulatory layers of approval which are politically controlled from the centre—for example, the need for the Secretary of State to approve the new statutory local skills improvement plans. The Bill claims to be local, but how local is it beyond the local employers?
I am also sympathetic to Amendment 81, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Whitaker and Lady Greengross, and others, which addresses the attainment gap. The Bill is limited in supporting those who have not attained grade 4 or above in English. Simon Parkinson, the chief executive of the Workers’ Educational Association, noted that the Bill is
“quiet on support for any qualifications below Level 3”,
“offer many adult learners key progression routes”.
I am sympathetic to thinking about broadening this out.
Many years ago—probably decades now—I launched a return to learning course for women who had no qualifications. They were often young women, and I taught them a broad liberal arts course. I agree with the WEA that it is worrying that the Bill does little to support
“subjects outside a narrow band of technical disciplines”.
For the women who I taught, it was an introduction to literature, history and creative writing; no doubt local employers would think that a complete waste of time. But it actually allowed them to acquire confidence and skills—and ultimately, in some instances, a GCSE in English. It was a stepping stone to them taking training courses and reskilling, and many went on to be, for example, a nurse or a police officer. One did a course in animal husbandry. Another eventually ran a successful beauty business and earned a fortune.
My main takeaway from that is that we cannot be too prescriptive in what we want to achieve when we train people by narrowly saying that the only skills that matter are decided by local bosses. They might say “We’ll decide what skills we’ll need in this area into the future”, but lack any imagination to think beyond that. Sometimes non-training and non-skills education can lead people into the world of training and skills, and we should not neglect that either.
My Lords, I am not sure I will be able to match the bravura performances that this Committee has already brought forward. I noted with great pleasure the speech of my noble friend Lord Adonis. I tried to make a speech like that at Second Reading. The only trouble is that at Second Reading you have five minutes, but being in Committee gives you much greater opportunity to expand as you wish.
For all the criticisms of the Bill, many of which I agree with, it does contain one major social reform which has the potential for improvement in the decade ahead: the extension of the student loan scheme to people doing training. We should all put on record clearly our welcome for that; it is very important.
I am no great expert in this field but I had a little encounter with it when I was involved, at the latter end of the Labour Government, with the North West Development Agency in my home area of Cumbria and saw the complexities of trying to improve the skills system. If the Committee will allow me, I would like to expand on that a little. It struck me that the problem with skills and further education was that provision was not demand-led but supply-led. It was led by people who wanted to fill the places on courses to get the money from the Skills Funding Agency to meet their costs. For it to be supply-led by the providers—not demand-led by the needs of employers and the country—is clearly not a satisfactory way of doing things, so reform is needed.
However, the Government are saying that they are going to create committees dominated by employers to solve this problem—well, we have had a bit of a history of that. The great selling point of the RDAs that Labour established was that they were private sector led. I actually think that was a great mistake; they should have been locally and democratically led. We then would have had, in my view, a much more solid basis for English devolution. We had the local enterprise partnerships established by the right honourable Sir Vincent Cable, which Members on the Liberal Democrat Benches will doubtless be anxious to applaud in these debates. Again, those partnerships were intended to put employers at the forefront of local economic development. We now have this proposal for local skills improvement plans, led by employers.
However, getting the employer voice in an area is very difficult. In Cumbria there are some very big employers. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned Barrow and British Aerospace, and there is Sellafield on the west coast of the old Cumberland. These very big employers need to have relationships with universities and colleges to provide a ladder of opportunity for their people, from apprenticeships to master’s degrees, in the areas that they need. That is not satisfactorily done but it is a way forward. I am not sure whether skills improvement plans will result in that, but that is what needs to be done with large employers.
Then there are big sectors in which there are small employers and generally unsatisfactory standards: typically, hospitality, in the private sector, and social care, in the quasi-public sector—often privately provided, of course. In those areas we need a national sectoral approach. There are probably several hundred local hotelkeepers in the Lake District; putting a couple of them on the skills improvement board is not going to solve the problem. We need some national sectoral approaches, particularly to the sectors where there are chronic skills shortages.
We cannot get cooks in the Lake District at the moment. That is a consequence of Brexit. Employers have to close their kitchens at lunchtime and on the early days of the week, because of the lack of availability of the labour from eastern Europe on which we formerly relied, which is causing a big problem.
If we want to resolve that dilemma, we need a national sectoral approach to encourage young people to go into social care and hospitality. We must establish a pathway for them, for gaining skills, and we must mandate for them minimum wages higher than the living wage to give them an incentive to do the training. That would raise productivity in those sectors. That is a way forward in some of the very low-paid, low-productivity, low-skilled sectors of the economy.
I wonder how these skills improvement boards are going to work. I just do not know. It will be difficult for us to come back after the Minister has spoken, but she has to answer all those sharp, precise questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in his opening speech. We need to know more about how this whole thing is going to work.
The other big gap, as many Members have pointed out, concerns how we get people who have not succeeded at school to a level at which they can benefit from the extension of training and further education opportunities. I am not sure whether that is a question for this Bill, but it should be a priority for the Government.
One of the things I regret about the Labour Government was that we never extended the brilliant London Challenge, which succeeded in transforming our London schools, to the north-west. Cumbria never benefited from anything like that, nor did the north-east. We could have done much more. That is not a criticism, but there is a sense of missed opportunity.
I do not know what the inspection and transformation regime for colleges of further education will be, but, as part of the politics of place—which the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, rightly mentioned—we should have a conscious policy, and a mechanism, to try to ensure that every reasonable-sized town has a decent further education college at its centre. How do we get that, and how do we sort things out? There is already a lot of good there, but there is also quite a lot of chaff. How we get rid of that, and how we amalgamate where necessary, and get co-operation, is a question that needs to be answered in these debates. We need to know much more about how the proposed arrangements will work. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked the Minister the right questions, and I hope that she will answer them.
My Lords, I very much support the aims of the Bill and of many of the amendments in this group, which seek to ensure that local skills improvement plans embody a partnership approach involving all participants in the education and skills system. The two overriding requirements of a successful education and skills system are that it should meet the national need for skills to deliver UK-wide goals and priorities, and that it should give individuals the attributes and skills to identify and pursue their own career aspirations and personal fulfilment. Reconciling those two aims is the challenge that the Bill seeks to address
I very much agree with Amendment 1, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. It is essential that learners have a voice in the development of LSIPs—as I will call them; I hope noble Lords will forgive me—in their own areas, and that LSIPs should take proper account of national strategic priorities. They will need to find a way of balancing actual opportunities in their areas—the jobs that are there now, in health, in care, in retail and in hospitality, in existing businesses—with future needs for green jobs, for STEM, for digital jobs and creative skills. They may also need to be aware of the views of significant national employer groups about their specific current and future skills needs, such as those in the energy and utilities sector, which faces enormous skills challenges.
I hope the Minister will be able to tell us something about how the planned trailblazers or pilots will be used to develop guidance. Ideally, they will blaze a series of trails to respond to varying local conditions and circumstances. Different local areas will rightly have to take different approaches, led by different employer representative bodies. There may be many areas where chambers of commerce do not have the right focus or qualities to lead the local partnership, and others where the plan would ideally be built on existing work by LEPs, skills advisory partnerships and other such groups. What is needed is guidance on general principles for successful LSIPs and ERBs. What is absolutely not needed is any sort of over-prescriptive, one-size-fits-all approach to such bodies.
I shall try to follow the excellent example given by the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, by not feeling that no point has been properly made until I have made it myself, so I will now move on. I welcome the fact that Amendment 2 in this group, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, would require the needs of potential employers, start-up businesses and the self-employed to be considered. Of course, those groups include numerous entrepreneurs, who also need special skills. The Future Founders report in 2019 revealed that 51% of British young people aged 14 to 25 had thought about starting, or had already started, a business. We should ensure that the Bill addresses their needs; we should certainly not be focusing only on the skills needs of existing employers. One of the last places to look for the potential unicorn businesses of the future is within the ranks of existing large-scale employers.
One other specific area of need not mentioned in the Bill, about which I feel strongly, having been involved with it for some years, is improved work readiness and practical skills, particularly for young people aged about 14 upwards.
I applaud the recognition in Amendments 20 and 21, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, and the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, that much valuable skills training will be provided remotely —as we have learnt during the pandemic. Distance learning providers are an increasingly important category of independent training providers, not least in remote areas and areas less well served by colleges, and local plans should take account of what they can offer.
Finally, I strongly commend Amendment 18 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, to require local skills plans to give due regard to
“coordinating careers information, advice and guidance provision across education providers”
in their area. High-quality careers advice and guidance, available to all who need it, is fundamental to the success of any skills plan so that young people especially have a clear idea of what opportunities, meeting their own abilities and interests, are realistically available to them and what pathways they can follow to pursue those opportunities.
Although considerable progress has been made as a result of the 2017 careers strategy, which ended last year, careers education is still underresourced in terms of funding and of there being enough well-qualified careers guidance professionals to meet the needs of schools, colleges, universities and other training providers. This is one strategic skills shortage that needs to be addressed, preferably by a renewed careers strategy, but its complete absence from the Bill is concerning, so I welcome this and other amendments seeking to ensure that it is appropriately covered.
My Lords, I regret that I did not participate in Second Reading, but perhaps, as somebody has already remarked, there might be a better opportunity here. I declare an interest as a national apprenticeship ambassador.
I felt sorry for the Minister after the performance of my noble friend Lord Adonis, which basically embraced Dante’s advice: “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”. I do not agree—this is a good Bill. There are no perfect Bills; those of us who have been involved in education in previous Governments will know that we never get it quite right. It is a good Bill but, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and a number of people have suggested, it could be better, so I support most of the amendments in the group.
I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, who first raised the question of English and maths. The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, gave it even more emphasis. We need to find an alternative. There are certainly many apprenticeship opportunities which do not require GCSE English and maths. I had neither because I was dragged out of school at 15 years old, but I can remember some of the things we were required to do. After simultaneous equations, I am afraid I just could not master quadratic equations or anything else. I do not think that necessarily stopped me in my apprenticeship in telecom.
One thing I hope the Minister will respond to, because it is a constructive suggestion, is that the local skills improvement plans should embrace more than just employers. Perhaps that is the intention, but there are those who said that there is a need not just for students—trade unions have a role to play, as well as others. Trade unions are still doing a good job of getting back into learning people who have not embraced it for many years under the Return to Learn scheme.
There has been a lot of criticism about employers being somehow the wrong people to involve. I do not quite understand that. Where do people think these jobs will come from? There is a fundamentally important need to have employers as part of the local skills improvement plans. My concern is: will employers look ahead? A number of people said that, including my noble friend Lady Morris, while the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, quoted fishing and agriculture as a couple of examples. Even in those industries, it is not just the basic question of going out to sea and catching fish—there are the logistics involved when they return to port. A lot of technology is involved now, even in fishing. The fundamental changes taking place in agriculture require a much greater need for technology. I do not think we should assume that employers will not look ahead, but should we rely on them? No, I think that some of the amendments that have been suggested are right.
My concern is that we need to involve more SMEs—that is the challenge. I agree with my noble friend Lord Adonis that the apprenticeship levy is in desperate need of reform; the number of starts involving 16 to 18 year-olds has declined. That is the way the levy is being used and we have not managed to involve enough small and medium-sized enterprises.
For me, the key to skills is lifelong learning. I actually do not support student loans—I wish we had moved to a tax system instead. Student loans are not a particularly fair system, and students leave with a huge amount of debt. I would like to move towards a tax-based approach, but I do not think I will achieve that.
There has not been much reference so far in the debate to the pandemic, yet it is fascinating to see how learning has had to respond to it. We had to do what the Open University has been doing for years with online learning. We have had to make it flexible, and it needs to be more flexible. The Bill needs to look at today’s workforce. If we really want to get a more diverse group of people involved, we need flexibility in learning—we need modular learning. That ought to come out of this.
The Institute for Apprenticeships will be involved, which is right. We will look at the kinds of skills we need. T-levels are on the agenda, but we need to be careful that we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater when we look at skills and qualifications.
I do not know whether mayors should necessarily be involved but I note that there is a balance between national and local in the Bill. It is a reasonable balance.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Watson’s amendment on careers advice. That is fundamental. Things are changing on the education front—it is not a static situation by any means. I was fascinated to learn that students applying to UCAS these days are not just given the opportunity of university places but directed towards apprenticeships.
Much in this Bill has good intentions. I hope the Minister will respond positively to the amendments started by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and built on by a number of others. I am not necessarily sure that the later amendments on net zero and the environment should form part of the local skills improvement plans, but we will no doubt return to that.
I am, if you like, travelling hopefully with this Bill. I think the glass is half full, and that that is the way we need to approach it. We know that we need to improve productivity in this country and that to do that we need to improve our skill base. The other, most fundamentally important thing we must do is ensure that we do not unwittingly create a lost generation of young children who are left claiming benefits or, worse, doing nothing at all or getting involved in criminal activity. That is the challenge: to create a framework which will improve skills, give opportunities to young people and embrace at a local level all those participants who need to be embraced.
My Lords, I am delighted to take part in this debate. I will address principally Amendment 81 but also the general points raised by my noble friend Lord Lucas, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden.
The Bill basically focuses on education for 16 to 19 year-olds, but it cannot be looked at just as a separate section; it depends on what has happened between 11 and 16. If you have made a mess of 11 to 16, you cannot compensate for it by this Bill. I believe that, since 2010, we have made a mess of 11 to 16 education. This is really what is behind the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker; she is talking about disadvantaged children. The proportion of disadvantaged children today—you are usually considered to be disadvantaged if you do not get level 4 in English and maths—is between 30% and 35%. That is not a small minority—it is over 2 million students who failed, after 14 years of free state education, to acquire a basic literacy and numeracy qualification. It is a huge indictment of the English education system and what has been imposed upon it since 2010.
In 2010, Michael Gove imposed his curriculum on schools, without any consultation whatever. His curriculum, known as EBacc or Progress 8, consists of eight academic subjects: two English, one maths, three science, one foreign language and either history or geography. That is a grammar school curriculum; it is an academic curriculum. It excludes any sort of technical training, computer training, design training or cultural studies. Since 2010, there has been no fall in the number of disadvantaged children: the number then was roughly the same as it is now, at 30% to 35%. It was the same in 2015, when the Conservatives took control; there has been no significant improvement. I fear that there is absolutely no doubt that the attainment gap between the brightest and the less bright students will have grown substantially during Covid.
The victims of this policy are the disadvantaged and the unemployed. No one has mentioned the level of unemployment. Youth unemployment is now at 14.8%, which is very high—three times the national average—but there has been no mention at all of that. Nor has there been mention, so far, of students in the Bill; they have been left out like the mayors mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis—they are not mentioned at all. I see no measure in the Bill that will prove a significant change in dealing with the skills gaps in our country.
The other matter that I am concerned about is that the Bill should have been a wonderful opportunity to create a combination of academic and technical education but, in fact, it makes the division even greater. The Bill is saying that if you stay on at school in the sixth form, that is the best way to get to university. When it is passed, the heads of every secondary school will say to their students, “Don’t go down that technical route, you’ll never get to university. Stay with us.” So all the rest will go down this technical route, and that is a real divide.
In Clause 4, the Bill actually says that schools and 16 to 19 academies will not be allowed to teach technical education. It says it in statute. I never thought that I would see that particular definition in an English law—least of all brought back by a Conservative Government, I may say. That is a complete bifurcation: there is an academic route and a less academic route. This is not really what should happen. The schools that I have established over the last 12 years include both academic and technical education and we have magnificent results, but the Bill really does not have that role in it whatever. It is educational apartheid—I do not use that word lightly, but that is what this is; there are two clear routes in future. Where is the parity of esteem, when the secondary head can say to his children, “Stay with me and you will get to university, because I will do those eight academic subjects, and we will get you through your A-levels as well”?
I am afraid that there is no real advantage in the Bill for the disadvantaged students, and I regret that very much indeed. When we talk about disadvantaged children, just remember that in every child there is a bit of flint. Sometimes you have to dig very deep for it, but that is the purpose of education—to find that bit of flint and create a spark, or, as Shakespeare said:
“The fire i’th’ flint
Shows not till it be struck.”
That flint has to be found long before 16; it has to be found at primary level and at secondary level and this is what we are failing to do as a country.
I ought first to declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I looked at these amendments and found myself agreeing with every single one. I looked back and remembered when we had the technical education Bill and, when we were in Committee in the Moses Room, I think there were probably about eight to 10 of us. How wonderful it is now to see how people have realised the importance of technical and vocational education—we have a proper Committee for a further education/vocational education/skills Bill.
I do not have a problem with local skills improvement plans—does anyone? It seems eminently sensible that you look at the needs of each locality in terms of business, job creation and development, and put that plan together. It is not something where you say, “Nationally, we will all do this”; you look at each local area. I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, talk about Cumbria. He will be pleased to know that I spent a week in Keswick and, as we walked around, virtually every single restaurant, hotel and shop had an advert pleading for people to work in the hospitality industry. Clearly, that is a skill that is needed in that area. It is obviously brought about because of Brexit, but that was a problem even when we were in the EU—there were not enough people in the hospitality industry.
I look at my own city of Liverpool, and back in the 1960s and 1970s we were the poorest region in Europe and, as a result, we qualified for what was called Objective 1 money—nearly €1 billion, I think. We got that twice; we got two tranches because our GDP was among the lowest in Europe. Why did we get a second tranche? Because the first time we failed completely to use the money effectively. We did not draw up a plan; we did not say, “What skills do we need? How can we turn the economy around?” We just sort of threw the money about. For example, FE colleges were booming with hairdressing and beauty treatment courses, so we gave them money to develop those courses. Yet there was a shortage at the time of engineers and of people in the construction industry, but there was no plan to say, “This is how we should be doing it.” So the notion of a local skills improvement plan seems eminently sensible.
I have a query about who should be putting that plan together. I have always said, “Look, employers want to run their businesses. They don’t want to be sitting round tables taking evidence, following government diktats and consulting people. They’ve got jobs to do. They want to make their businesses successful.” In a sense it should be the other way round. Whoever is doing this should be consulting with employers, not asking employers to do this work. But here we are. We have this.
If this is going to be employer-led, whatever that may mean, it is hugely important that other partners—and I use the term partners—are properly involved. The key partners must be the further education colleges, without a shadow of a doubt. They are the ones that are going to deliver this. If they feel that they have been pushed aside or neglected, it is not going to happen as well as it should. Then there is a whole host of other people who should be involved. Mention has been made, quite rightly, of the combined authorities—the metro mayoral authorities. I think we have nine of them now. They have been tasked with this—not only tasked, we have given them money. Liverpool City Region now gets £40 million a year. They have some other resources as well, so we should be involving them—not just involving, but partnering up with them. Again, that is important.
I want to raise some of the particularly important issues that have been identified. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, is right again when he says that we have made a mess. We have made a mess of our 11 to 16 schooling. It was not just Michael Gove, it was his coalition partners who sat by and allowed this to happen, much to my party’s shame. But that is in the past. We have to move forward and we have to recognise that, as I said at Second Reading, education should not be about just a knowledge and learning-based curriculum, it should be about a whole host of other things as well.
I am so glad that my noble friend Lord Addington again raised the issue of special educational needs, because here is an important group of young people who need to be part of this plan.
I want to go back to schooling. I have heard mention three times now of the London Challenge and how successful this was. I do not doubt it was successful, but I remind the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, that in Liverpool where our education service was failing, we were about to be privatised and the Minister at the time saw me and our chief executive and said, “Look, we don’t really want to privatise you. How about we work together to turn Liverpool around?” The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, came to Liverpool on numerous occasions—she was almost an adopted Scouser. Like the London Challenge, we were able to turn that around; at one stage Liverpool became the top-performing core city. It was not difficult to see how that was achieved. It was achieved by people working together and by realising that it was about the quality of teachers and the quality of leadership in schools—and also, to some extent, the quality of resources that were available.
Talking about the quality of teachers, if we are to get these local skills improvement plans to work, it also has to be about the provision and quality in further education. I repeat the plea that we look at the status of teachers and lecturers in further education. To my mind, it is a bit concerning that if you are a maths teacher, for example, in a school academy, you can earn considerably more than if you are a maths teacher in a further education college. Can the Minister explain why that is the case? Should there not be the resources in further education to make sure that we get the right quality, if we have not already got it?
Talking about the overall budget of colleges, if we are to identify skills that are needed in this local skills improvement plan, we have to ensure that the colleges are given time to develop those courses. That means an understanding that the money will be around for a period of time to develop those courses. You cannot suddenly say, “We need skills in this sector” and then start up the course when you have not then got the money to keep that course going. Again, that is hugely important.
I am so glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, and other noble Lords have mentioned the importance of remote learning. The Open University has been amazing in making that provision. Wherever people are, they can develop skills and knowledge through remote learning. Let us hope that continues.
It is interesting for me that, just by chance, as this Bill goes through your Lordships’ House, I also serve on the Select Committee looking at youth unemployment. It would perhaps be worth the Minister looking through some of the evidence given to that Select Committee. It is absolutely eye-opening. Only today we were hearing from disadvantaged young people and those in the careers service dealing with disadvantaged people. This is a whole host of people that we need to engage if we are to make these skills improvement plans work. Staggeringly, in the construction industry, for example, where we know that there is a national shortage, only 6% of people working in that industry are black, Asian or minority ethnic. Only 6%—why is that? Is that because they do not feel comfortable in that industry? Is that because there is overt racism? I do not know the reason. But there must be a reason it is only 6%. If you look at engineering—again, where there are national shortages—why is it only 7% black, Asian and minority ethnic people working in that industry? The other startling thing—again, my jaw dropped open—was to hear many young people who are desperate for a job tell us they did not feel confident going to Jobcentre Plus. They were nervous to apply for apprenticeships. They were nervous about and did not think it right to go for Kickstart. Why is that? These are issues that we need to get to the bottom of because they impact on the work we do.
In the Minister’s letter on the local skills improvement plan, which I got today, I was pleased to see that the priorities of local stakeholders will be considered when developing local skills improvement plans and that employer representative bodies will—kindly—engage with employers and then clear guidance will be set out. I also note that the Secretary of State will approve a local skills improvement plan before it is published and will require evidence that statutory guidance has been followed in the process of delivering this plan. I hope that will mean that they have to be absolutely confident that all the key partners have been able to have an input into those plans.
Finally, I just want to mention that, in putting forward these local skills improvement plans, there will be national requirements that are not locally based. The one that people have mentioned that springs to mind is the utility industry, where there is a national skills requirement. I would like to understand from the Minister how its voice will be heard, which is, in a sense, quite separate from local needs.
My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as in the register. Amendment 17 seeks to ensure that LSIPs cannot place an unreasonable burden on providers. Although we aim to amend the Bill to ensure that LSIPs are produced in partnership with providers, as drafted, the Bill gives ERBs all the power and renders FE colleges passive recipients. The role of employer representative bodies will be very important in shaping local systems, so it is worth while being clear about expectations, accountabilities and oversight in respect of what they are undertaking. There is a risk that some ERBs might represent a narrow group of employer voices, focus too much on current skills needs or be unwilling to take feedback. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked earlier, how will they work?
It is important to ensure that ERBs represent the full breadth of employer voices, focus on future demand—the skills we need for tomorrow—and have appropriate governance. Some employer representative bodies run publicly funded training providers that compete with colleges for apprenticeships and other contracts. We are therefore concerned that they have no ability to challenge plans even when these include unreasonable burdens, and can in fact be penalised if they are deemed to be failing in the plans’ objectives. I will not repeat the powerful rhetoric of my noble friend Lord Adonis, save his strong statement that this is “a Bill in search of a policy”—that is worth repeating, as is his further description that, with appropriate government funding, legislation for LSIPs would not be required.
There are many areas where plans could be unreasonable; for example, a requirement to facilitate a new course in an unworkable timescale or accommodate significant numbers of new students. I hope the Minister will agree to our other amendments and see sense in providers having agency over LSIPs, given their role in their delivery.
Amendment 18 seeks to ensure that LSIPs provide co-ordinated, strategic, all-age careers information, as mentioned by several noble Lords. The advice and guidance are widely supported across the education sector and, as was apparent at Second Reading, in this House. The Government’s White Paper says:
“We need impartial, lifelong careers advice and guidance available to people when they need it, regardless of age, circumstance or background.”
I could not agree more. Education is the key to personal and social mobility. I well remember being a young teacher when the noble Lord, Lord Baker’s 1988 Act was introduced. There must be a joined-up employment, skills and careers system. A range of choices and opportunities should be central to any reform, and changes to the post-16 education system should allow for progression and pathways between technical education, apprenticeships and existing further and higher education qualifications—no dual system, but one continuous pathway. It is disappointing that we are still awaiting the recommendation of Sir John Holman, who has been appointed to advise on this. Can the Minister confirm when these recommendations will be published and how they will sit alongside the Bill?
Amendment 19 seeks to ensure that the development of LSIPs must consider and support people with EHCPs and disabled people without EHCPs; this is supported by Mencap. Every person with a learning disability should have the opportunity to study and work. However, too few people with a learning disability have the opportunities and support that they need, and employment rates for people with a learning disability have remained stubbornly low. The reasons for this are numerous but some of the typical barriers to employment include a lack of support to build skills, misconceptions and a lack of understanding of what people with a learning disability can achieve with the right support, and failure by government programmes to provide the necessary adjustments required by people with a learning disability.
It is crucial that those with a learning disability can benefit from the measures in this Bill, and that support for schemes that help them, especially supported internships, are on the face of the Bill. A focus is needed on making the three “ships”—traineeships, supported internships and apprenticeships—more accessible and widely available; this will open up pathways into long-term employment. It is crucial that the various offers and pathways work in harmony. Indeed, apprenticeships need to be made more flexible and this should be included as part of reforms to the post-16 education offer; it has been a significantly missed opportunity.
Additionally, we want to see more of a commitment to ensuring that people with education, health and care plans, as well as disabled people without EHCPs, are included in the development of local skills improvement plans. Leaving this group out will only further entrench the current barriers.
Amendment 21 seeks to ensure that LSIPs consider learning distance providers, as noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and my noble friend Lady Morris. Indeed, the Open University has been a world leader in flexible distance learning. Noble Lords do not need me to tell them that it began in 1969, established by Harold Wilson’s Labour Government as a major marker in the commitment to modernising British society. He believed that it would help build a more competitive economy while also promoting greater equality of opportunity and social mobility. In the past 50 years it has done exactly that; it should therefore be seriously considered as a world leader in distance learning opportunities.
I turn to other amendments in this group. It is imperative that LSIPs have regard to national strategies for addressing the attainment gap. The latest annual report from the Education Policy Institute found that the gap between what poorer pupils and their richer peers achieve at school stopped closing even before the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic. Disadvantaged pupils in England are now 18.1 months of learning behind their peers by the time they finish their GCSEs. This is the same gap as five years ago, and disparities at primary school age are widening for the first time since 2007. My noble friend Lady Whitaker set out a powerful argument for greater provision to bring more youngsters to the starting blocks, to stop the gross ignoring of potential and hampering of life chances.
It is deeply concerning that our country entered the pandemic with such a lack of progress in this key area of social policy. The Government urgently need to put in place new policy measures to help poor children and close that gap. My noble friend Lady Morris shared her concern about employers and set out the successful “gateway” approach. We need to scope out those skills of tomorrow.
LSIPs must include the interests of students whose needs are not encompassed by local employers to prevent geographic fatalism of employment. We should encourage social mobility and prevent history repeating itself. Large swathes of the United Kingdom that were reliant on coal and manufacturing industries have never recovered from their collapse; for this very reason, we must ensure that the skills Bill does not have a narrow focus on historical sectoral dominance.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions. Bearing in mind that questions have been raised about the structure and nature of the Bill, it may be useful to deal with those points first. The Bill will provide a framework. It gives the Secretary of State power to designate an employer representative body. That is not necessarily a group of employers but, as outlined in Bill, a body required to be “reasonably representative” of employers in the local area.
With respect to the framework, as was mentioned by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, there is a balance to be struck between not wanting to dictate centrally and having as much flexibility as possible, so that it is not prescriptive from the centre and the employer representative body can take into account a wide number of stakeholders and gather a wide range of evidence. This will set up a dynamic relationship. Clause 1(4) provides that the relevant providers have a duty to co-operate with the development or review of a local skills improvement plan. As some noble Lords have outlined, that duty places the further education colleges as a central plank in creating the plan for the local area. With respect to Clause 5, the plan is one thing that providers should have regard to when they are looking at local needs more generally.
I believe that noble Lords, at Second Reading and today, have had some concern about the scope of the local skills improvement plan. It is based on technical education—the beginning part of the Bill outlines what technical education is material for the purposes of the plan—but then the duty under Clause 5 for those providers is local needs. So it is much wider than just the technical education part that forms the central plank of the local skills improvement plan.
This will use the powers of the Secretary of State to designate that body and set up that dynamic relationship. Many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, mentioned that relationship with the national priorities. The Skills and Productivity Board, which looks at national skills requirements, will be reporting later this year, so that will be a central coherent national skills outline that every local skills improvement plan will have access to and will be referenced in the guidance. Hopefully, that will produce the dynamic relationship between the national skills plan—so each of the areas will have the same plan for national skills—and the local area. At the local level, you have the employer representative body with a duty on the relevant providers to co-operate in that dynamic relationship.
Noble Lords have made some very powerful points, and maybe we are going to come down to a bit of a House of Lords point about “Do those points belong on the face of a piece of primary legislation or are these important considerations to include in the guidance?” From the nature of this legislation, it is a framework. The challenge that could be made to the Government if we were too prescriptive in the Bill would be that we were trying to Whitehall-lead this—and that cannot be.
On the trailblazer process—for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris—the current timetable is that the trailblazers will be announced later this month and end in March 2022. They will be important in fleshing out what should be in the statutory guidance that is mentioned in the legislation, and the national rollout will commence after Royal Assent. I hope that assures noble Lords that we have a timetable for this.
On the challenge about why this legislation is needed, there is a very clear DNA running through the technical education qualifications that one can see with apprenticeships, T-levels and the current review of levels 4 and 5. The majority of technical education qualifications in this country should be connected to an employer standard so that the employers know what that student can now do and the student knows what currency that qualification has. I recall serving with many noble Lords on the one-year Select Committee on Social Mobility; I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, served on it. For young people who do not go to university, the complexity of the qualifications —the uncertainty about what that level 2 or 3 actually meant for you and what it gave you at an interview—was clearly so different from walking into an interview with your GCSE or A-level certificates. That is what, in terms of parity of esteem, all these changes are meant to change. Students should know, “When I get that qualification, it gives me that competency”, and they can walk into an interview and the employer will know that level 3.5 in, say, forklift truck driving on an oil rig has that competency. The currency is standard and gives parity of esteem to these qualifications. That is why, as we will discuss in a later group, the employers are in the lead as the employer representative body. That is the consistent DNA in the technical education system that we are trying to embed to give that parity of esteem, not just through saying this about FE and HE but through the technical qualifications being as easy to understand by students and employers as a GCSE certificate is at the moment.
I have a final point. The Bill does not exclude any particular level of qualification. The definition at the start is about technical education that is material to the skills, capabilities and assessments in that area. It is not limited in that regard. Obviously an LSIP could include the level 1 or 2 kind of qualifications; it is not limited. The limiting is the technical education section of what the providers in a local area would have due regard to when considering the local skills improvement plan.
I hope that provides a useful framework before I deal specifically with some of the amendments that noble Lords have tabled and explain to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that this is not half-baked. There is a reason why this is a framework to ensure local flexibility. We have not defined “local”. When we have done these trailblazers we have allowed the economic area to define itself, so we are really trying to get a balance here in terms of a structure and a framework to enable local areas to take ownership of their local plans.
I note the points made by my noble friend Lord Lucas concerning the LSIPs and the skills, capabilities or expertise required by potential students. I know the whole Committee will agree that post-16 education and training should meet the needs of students effectively, not only to secure meaningful employment but to ensure that they have essential skills for life more broadly.
I point out to noble Lords that Ofsted already considers whether the curriculum considers the needs of learners as part of its inspections of all post-16 FE providers. Many of the core skills and capabilities that students need to succeed in life are already well known and are consistent across the country—for example, literacy, numeracy, ICT and, sometimes, English language skills—so that students can function and integrate effectively into society. However, as I have outlined, the key technical skills that employers need can vary significantly across areas. They continually evolve to respond to new opportunities and challenges, and that is where the local skills improvement plan will make a valuable contribution.
By identifying the skills, capabilities and expertise required by employers in a specified area and, importantly, that may be required in future, which is specifically outlined in Clause 1(6)(b), a designated employer representative body will have clear evidence on the skills, capabilities and expertise that potential students will similarly require to help them secure good skilled jobs in the local area.
I reiterate that Clause 5 introduces a new duty on all institutions within the FE sector—namely, further education and sixth-form colleges and designated institutions—to keep all their provision under review to ensure that it is meeting local needs, including the needs of learners. At this point, to answer the point of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, there is no prescription in the Bill to say that 11 to 16 should not be teaching technical education. We have just said in Clause 4, in relation to the relevant providers being under a duty to co-operate, that at this stage we have not given that burden to schools. It is clear in Clause 4 that by regulation the Secretary of State can change that and make them one of the relevant providers that would then have a duty to co-operate.
Sorry, no. On Amendment 2 from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, in relation to potential employers, start-up businesses and the self-employed, I strongly agree with her on the importance of ensuring that employers’ voices are central to the local skills improvement plan. That is why it is clear in the Bill that, once designated, the employer representative body must draw on the views of employers operating within an area to inform a local skills improvement plan. The definition of “employer” is wide and the employer representative body can take into account any other evidence. That is broad in order to ensure that they have flexibility to include, of course, the needs of the self-employed in the local area.
To effectively fulfil the role of summarising the skills needs of local employers, the designated body will need to convene and draw on the views of employers that are not part of the ERB itself, as well as other relevant employer representative sector bodies and any other evidence. That will ensure that it is as easy as possible for employers, especially small employers, to navigate local skills systems, engage and have their voice heard.
Turning now to Amendments 11 and 81, from the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her expertise and her unstinting efforts to support those who have not yet achieved their grade 4 or above in English and maths. I hope she will be pleased to know that although the coronavirus has slightly delayed the work with MHCLG and DfE, a strategy in relation to Gypsies, Roma and Travellers will be published, we hope, later this year.
We agree, of course, that English and maths are vital for life, learning and work. Securing good levels of literacy and numeracy increases individual productivity and improves earnings and employment opportunities. That is why English and maths are core competences of 16-19 study programmes, traineeships and T-Level transition programmes. They are also set as exit requirements for successful completion of the apprenticeship and T-Level programmes. We want young people and adults to have the skills they need to progress into jobs, further education or training. That is why we have a number of policies in place to support attainment.
First, all 16-19 year olds on study programmes of 150 hours or more, where they do not yet hold a GCSE grade 4-9 in English and maths, must continue to study these subjects. Secondly, we have reformed the English and maths functional qualifications to improve the rigour, relevance and recognition among employers. This qualification is often taken as an alternative to GCSEs where students must continue studying, which I hope answers the further question from my noble friend Lord Lucas. Thirdly, we have increased our investment in the centres for excellence in maths programme that are designed to improve the quality of maths teaching in post-16 institutions. We have made further investment in a range of professional development programmes for post-16 English and maths teachers. Dealing with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, FE colleges are free to set their own pay and conditions, so they are free to set the salary levels that they wish to as autonomous institutions. Fourthly, through our statutory entitlement, we fully fund English and maths courses from entry level 1 to 2 for adults who are yet to achieve a GCSE grade 4 or above or equivalent. This provision is free of charge and aims to support people in everyday life to find a job or to progress into further education. I think this is a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. Finally, specifically in response to the coronavirus pandemic, we have expanded the 16-19 tuition fund to support hundreds of thousands of young people who most need help to catch up in English, maths and other vocational and academic subjects.
I hope these actions will satisfy the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, but there are no plans to have a separate published strategy. Obviously, she will note from the Bill that the duty under Clause 5 on providers to take into account local needs will also, of course, take into account the provision of lower-level qualifications. In answer to my noble friend Lord Baker, I do not think we had much discussion at Second Reading about vocational, technical and academic. I had the great pleasure of visiting some of the university technical colleges that he was involved in setting up. It was pleasing to see that one I visited in Doncaster—I think it is the newest one—was offering the EBacc as well, so I do not think that there is a clear divide. It was impressive to see the outstanding education that is achieved in those institutions.
Turning to Amendment 17 from the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, I understand he seeks to probe what reasonable action would be asked of providers under the local skills improvement plan. I completely agree that it should not place unreasonable burdens on providers, and I outlined, on another section of the Bill, why “relevant providers” does not include schools. Clause 1 is clear that the duty on providers is to have “regard to the plan”. It is also why we want providers to work hand-in-glove with employers to develop these plans from the start rather than simply having regard to a plan that they have had no hand in developing. The Bill is clear that when there is no plan in place, there is a duty to help prepare the plan, as well as to help review it if there is one in place. Rather than simply requiring them to have regard to the plan once developed, this will ensure they can share their own perspectives on the current challenges and what actions might best address them. Thus, the plans will be the product, as I have outlined, of direct engagement between employers, as convened by a representative body, and the providers.
It is helpful, potentially, at this stage to answer the question from the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, about the trailblazers. The ERBs were identified through an open bidding process. We had a very strong response from across the country, including from areas with mayoral combined authorities, with more than 40 applications to become one of the six to eight trailblazers. As I have outlined, we will be announcing the results of that this month.
Many noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, mentioned the importance of careers advice in relation to Amendment 18. This year, 2021-22, £100 million is being invested in the National Careers Service and the Careers & Enterprise Company. Amendment 18 concerns consideration of the priorities of organisations and the co-ordination of careers information, advice and guidance. Of course we agree that there is a need for good careers information, advice and guidance for all to ensure that individuals can make informed choices. Local skills improvement plans can be one source of information that can help support this.
Of course the technical skills that employers require continually evolve and change to respond to new opportunities. The designated employer body will therefore need to engage and work closely with providers, as outlined in Clause 1(6)(b), which refers to “any other evidence”, so the widest scope is given to the employer representative body. This includes the Careers & Enterprise Company, local careers hubs, the National Careers Service, area-based contractors and Jobcentre Plus, of course. This will ensure that local intelligence and priorities are fed into the provision of careers information, advice and guidance, that advice is employer-led and integrated and that it generates interest in upcoming job opportunities in the area.
I was asked a specific question by the noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Storey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, about the funding of FE. There has been considerable investment: the biggest injection of new money in a single year since 2010 into the FE sector, nearly £700 million for 16-19s, an increase of £1.5 billion into FE college investment and a £2.5 billion national skills fund, so we are serious about the parity of esteem of these sectors.
We intend, as I have outlined, to set out clear expectations on stakeholder engagement—whether that is with careers, other employers or learners that have been outlined—in statutory guidance, which will be informed by evidence and good practice from the trailblazers running in 2021-22.
I turn now to Amendments 19, 22 and 26 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Watson and Lord Addington, relating to special educational needs and disabilities. I fully understood his analogy in relation vertigo. I suffer from it, so there is half the department that very rarely go to because I cannot get to it, so I appreciated his analogy. I appreciate the continual challenge he gives, not only as an FE ambassador, but to us in regard to thinking through the implication of all policies in relation to SEND children and young people. Obviously, with the right preparation and support, the overwhelming majority of SEND young people are able to progress into paid employment.
We are currently delivering two study programmes specifically designed to prepare young people for employment: traineeships and, as noble Lords outlined, supported internships. Traineeships are designed for all young people with little or no work experience, and supported internships are specifically for those with EHC plans. The traineeships have recently been strengthened as part of the Chancellor’s plan for jobs. In July next year, DfE will evaluate the impact on young people with SEND of the £237 million investment in traineeships.
In relation to relevant providers and the duty under Clause 5, there are existing legal duties on colleges and local authorities linked to reviewing and offering provision for learners with special educational needs and disabilities. There are also the duties under the Equality Act. I have already highlighted the role of Clause 5 in introducing a new duty on all institutions within the FE sector to keep all their provision under review to ensure that it is meeting local needs. That includes the needs of those with special educational needs or disabilities. Of course, if a young person presents with an unidentified SEND need, there still is an obligation on that college or provider in relation to that young person. The draft statutory guidance on this duty under Clause 5, which accompanied the letter that I sent to Peers, is clear that governing bodies will need to consider the needs of learners with special educational needs and disabilities, including those with education, health and care plans and that they will need to engage with local authorities when reviewing their provision.
The Careers & Enterprise Company already undertakes targeted work with employers to stimulate more employer engagement with young people with SEND, and it will continue to make the case for providing work experience and supported internships. The designated employer representative body would therefore engage with stakeholders such as the Careers & Enterprise Company to ensure that identified local intelligence and priorities are fed into the provision of careers information.
Amendments 20 and 21 were mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and tabled by respectively the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, and the noble Lord, Lord Watson. They are on distance learning, and many noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, specifically mentioned the Open University. I confirm that Clause 1 places duties on relevant providers of post-16 technical education and training that is material to a specified area. This includes relevant providers that may be based elsewhere and offer provision by distance learning. As long as the provision of this distance learning is material to the area, they will be captured by this duty. As I outlined, obviously, the Skills and Productivity Board report into national skills will also feature in this. In addition, we will encourage all providers of post-16 technical education and training to be involved in the development of local skills plans and delivery, regardless of whether a duty is being placed upon them.
In concluding, I acknowledge the important points raised by many noble Lords in relation to these amendments. However, as I outlined at the start, just because something is important—I have outlined the nature of this piece of legislation—that does not necessarily mean that it should feature on the face of the Bill. This is why I have argued that our statutory guidance is a better vehicle to reflect these points. Not only can we provide more detail in the statutory guidance but we can also keep it updated to respond to changing future circumstances. Furthermore, we can ensure that the learning from the trailblazers and the evaluation of those can feed directly into the first iteration of this guidance.
I hope that I have covered the one specific point that my noble friend Lord Lucas raised with me on ITPs. They are included in the definition of “relevant provider” in Clause 4. He also mentioned the point about accountability, which is of course important. To mitigate this, the designation can be subject to terms and conditions, as the Secretary of State considers appropriate, and the body must have regard to any relevant guidance published by the Secretary of State.
I will make clear that the evaluation by the Secretary of State is of the process, asking whether they have taken into account the guidance or whether a plan has been produced by consulting and collaborating with the relevant stakeholders. It will not be a judgment on the merits of that plan—that is about delegating down to the employer representative body to create it. Of course, some funding has been allocated to the trailblazers, and, of course, whenever you give public funding, it is on the condition of accountability for how it is used.
I hope that my remarks have given some reassurance to noble Lords. As I have said, I have taken this opportunity to outline the framework of this piece of legislation. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend Lord Lucas will feel comfortable in withdrawing his amendment and that other noble Lords will not feel the need to move theirs when they are called.
My Lords, I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Knight of Weymouth, and the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. I will call them in turn. I call the noble Lord, Lord Adonis.
My Lords, the Minister said that over 40 applications for LSIP trailblazers have been received by the department. Could she make them available for the Committee to see? It would be very helpful if, while we are considering the Bill, we could see what is going on in the real world. Could she also assure us that, when the selection of those trailblazers is made, they will not just go to areas that have Conservative MPs, reflecting the gerrymandering that took place with the towns Bill? There is a very acute concern that the funding that is available under the Bill is just going to places that are favoured with Conservative representation in the House of Commons, which would be par for the course for this Government.
The successful ones will be announced later on this month. There are no plans—and I clarify that it is not our normal process—to release the applications of those who have not been successful. I will write to the noble Lord if I am wrong about that.
My Lords, the Minister did a noble job in trying to prevent us wanting to come back to these issues, but I am sure that we will on Report. I was particularly interested in the comment that she made about local areas defining themselves. Looking back at some of the places where I have lived, I am interested in what happens if no one wants you in their area. I was once mayor of Frome, which is right on the edge, and in the east, of Somerset. It is economically more in west Wiltshire: lots of young people might go and study at Trowbridge college, but they might go to Radstock college or Yeovil College. Frome is a wonderful place, but in those areas they might not want it. I used to represent Swanage, which is on the edge of the Bournemouth and Poole conurbation, but it is in Dorset, so it is in the wrong county, just as Frome is in relation to Wiltshire. I am interested in that area.
I am also interested in national colleges. There is a National College for Digital Skills in north London, a national college for the creatives in Purfleet and a National College for Nuclear in Cumbria and Somerset. Will they have to have regard to all of the local skills partnerships’ needs for their particular skills? If so, it is a bit of a nightmare for those colleges to go through all of them.
Finally, I ask the Minister whether she sees a move to a genuine all-age careers service? In particular, would the DWP have to refer people to it if they are coming through jobs schemes? With the National Careers Service and the extra money that the Chancellor agreed for it during the pandemic, we have seen that it is struggling to spend that money because DWP is not really aware that it exists and is not referring people over. On the Government’s thinking around all of this, which is critically important, with all of the deskilling that is going on in our economy, can she give us some assurance that they are properly working through what an effective all-age careers service that everyone will want to use will look like?
My Lords, I was smiling at the noble Lord because I asked this precise question about a national plan. There is a balance here between not dictating from the centre, drawing a map and chopping things up and allowing economic areas to define themselves in our complex local geography. This has not been an issue with the trailblazers, but that was obviously a small number of areas—but, yes, we will ensure that there are no cracks between the areas and that every area will be covered by a local skills improvement plan.
As far as I am aware, there are no plans to change the National Careers Service and the Careers & Enterprise Company, which have different roles. The noble Lord is correct that we obviously need to make sure that all of this is joined up. Previous noble Lords have asked me about how this will join up with people on universal credit—this is a work in progress, but I was pleased to learn from DWP Ministers that there have been some slight changes to UC to make sure that those people could take up the digital skills boot camps, for instance. So we are aware of the need, with all of this, to make sure that this is one system that is working together.
One of the issues that I spoke of in preparation for this is the need for the job coach to understand which job requires which level to get those competences. Everyone needs to be able to understand this. I am sure that a job coach would understand that to be a translator you need GCSE French—but, to be a crane driver, what do you need? So we get that currency of understanding for employers, learners and job or work coaches sitting in DWP, who can advise people on what qualification to go away and do. That will make sure that you have the competences to walk through the door at that interview, in the same way as you would in relation to GCSE French, as I have said.
I am afraid I do not have a specific answer for the noble Lord. I think he was referring to Ada college in Manchester and north London. I will write to the noble Lord on how national colleges will engage. Obviously, we are hoping that, under the duty in Clause 5, a provider will not just say “Well, I’m in this LSIP area”. If they are on the border, they should be looking dynamically at where their students come and travel from—so they may end up looking at what the provision and the LSIP are for a number of areas.
My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s response. I will read it carefully in Hansard. I may have missed something, but I think she said that there were no laid down qualification barriers to entry. I would be grateful if she would write to me about where in the Bill this is made clear, and whether the Bill says that there is scope for enabling access through whatever barriers are locally set.
My Lords, the point I was making was that the Bill does not mention being only at level 3, level 4 or level 2; it does not mention those levels. The only definition in the Bill in terms of the LSIP and relevant providers is around technical education. I will just get the definition; I might as well read from it. It refers to
“post-16 technical education or training that is material”.
For instance, in a sixth-form college, the entirety of its provision might not be relevant under its duty to co-operate with employer representative bodies. That is not linked to saying, “Technical education at level 4, 3, 2 or 1”. The Bill does not talk about that; it is just talking about technical education as defined in Clause 1.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for her encyclopaedic reply to this long debate. In general, I am encouraged, and I did not notice any point I raised that she did not address. I am particularly grateful to her for filling out the picture generally.
I will pick up a few points from the debate. I thought the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, had it right when she referred to place. Place is very important. That importance seems to be becoming recognised within various areas of government. I was very pleased, for instance, by the structure of the levelling-up fund and the way it required a place to get together to decide what it wanted the money for, rather than the former system that applied down the coast, where a pier was imposed on Hastings by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and not tied into what the place wanted to do. That developing sense of place needs to find a way to be tied into local skills improvement plans. These organisations want to be talking to each other and moving in the same direction, by and large. I think that is what I mean by accountability. This should not be an organisation which just wanders off on its own and does not feel that it needs to have any relationship with the way that the place it is embedded in wants to go.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, raised the question of towns adding new areas of business. It is really difficult to see how that works in the structure which has been proposed. I will devote some time to thinking that through when I get a chance to read Hansard. I am conscious that in my own home town of Eastbourne, a conurbation of about 130,000 people has 50 places per annum for A-levels. That is ridiculous, but it seems really hard to change, to move and to draw attention to. I suspect that a town which needed to add a new area of business would find it similarly difficult to shift some of the structures that are being proposed here—but, as I say, I will look at that more carefully.
There is a question of how existing businesses realise they need new skills, which is a function that historically has been provided by the good awarding bodies. How that is going to flourish in the new system is going to be worth looking at.
Several noble Lords were looking at the structures of employers that the Government are proposing to work with. As the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, said, it is not easy to build good employer groups. That is why I very much support the call of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, to include the mayors. They have a convening capability which will mean that the local businesses produce good people to be on the LSIPs. It will not be third-rate or fourth-rate people; it will be people who are at board level taking part in them. That will make an enormous difference to how well they perform.
Perhaps the noble Lord remembers the old sector skills partnerships, many of which did not work well because they were just too low level. The one that I liked, e-skills, which was a top-level one, the Government killed— but there we are. The nice thing about the structures proposed in this Bill is that they are—I hope, by and large—existing employer structures, which will mean that they have a resilience against falling out of favour with the Government and an ability to retain the relationships and ways of working they build up under this structure.
So, as I say, I am grateful to my noble friend for her answers. I will look at them in detail and I am so pleased to have the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, back on home turf and out of the dark world he has been inhabiting for these last few years. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendment 2 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 3. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 13, after “circumstances” insert “including consideration of whether such future skills, capabilities or expertise would align with the achievement of the United Kingdom’s net zero target as contained in section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008 (the target for 2050),”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure that when considering whether post-16 technical education or training is “material” to a specified area, consideration must also be given as to whether such future skills, capabilities or expertise align with the UK’s net zero target.
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 3 and in doing so I declare my interest as co-chair of Peers for the Planet. I also apologise for not being able to be present at the Second Reading of the Bill—but I am delighted that many of the issues with which this group of amendments deal were raised by other noble Lords who will be speaking later today.
In introducing this group of amendments, I will speak to Amendments 3, 9 and 25, which I have tabled. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Cotes, who is sadly unavoidably unable to participate this afternoon, the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, and the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, for adding their names to this amendment. I also support and will speak briefly to other amendments in this group.
Unlike many who are participating in today’s debate, I am no expert in the field of skills and post-16 education—although I have to say that I think the last two and a half hours have given me a little bit of a crash course in some of the issues that will be more familiar to others here. But one does not have to be an expert to understand that the economy of the future—the shift to a green and sustainable industrial model—will require an innovative redesign of the UK’s education and skills framework, both to equip young workers for those jobs and to support a just transition for workers in carbon-intensive industries that will simply not exist in the future.
This was clearly articulated in a report published yesterday by the think tank Onward, Qualifying for the Race to Net Zero, which highlights how unprepared Britain’s labour market is for the challenges and opportunities of net zero. It says:
“This is a challenge of paramount importance. Without the labour supply or the skills base to develop net technologies or deliver the decarbonisation of existing industry or housing stock”
net zero is simply “not deliverable”. The Government’s overarching ambitions regarding climate change and our obligations under the Paris Agreement are threatened by a lack of skills in this area.
As part of that, an estimated 3.2 million workers in the UK will need to increase their skill level or retrain in a new qualification if we are to meet that target, and if they are to get the jobs that will be available, so it is really important that we address this issue. Some sectors are more heavily affected than others. Almost one in three workers in construction will need upskilling, along with more than one in four in transport and storage. I find it extraordinary that the Bill, which could and should form the basis of a cross-cutting, long-term skills and education strategy to support the Government’s commitment to net zero, contains not a single mention of the relevance of climate and nature considerations.
I understand the debate that we have just had about the importance of place and locality—of not having a one-size-fits-all system or having everything directed from the centre. However, it is an indisputable fact that the needs of the education sector, of young people and of those workers in industries that are not going to remain the same cannot be put to one side. We cannot have climate change-free zones in any area of life. This is affecting everybody. In this area, it is absolutely essential to have the right skills and education to meet the national commitments. However, local plans that do not take into account the fact that these monumental changes are going on in employment, business and industry will fail those in their local communities.
The amendments that I have put forward and that others are raising in this group are aimed at bringing to the debate, and to the set-up envisaged in the Bill, the introduction of net-zero and biodiversity considerations at every level. My three amendments are strategically aligned. They are linked and are all aimed at introducing a net-zero and nature test into decisions that the Secretary of State makes at various stages in relation to local skills improvement plans. Amendment 3 would ensure that, when considering whether education or training is material to a specified area and to the skills, capabilities or expertise that are or may be required by employers in the future, one of the circumstances to which the Secretary of State must have regard is whether those future skills align with the UK’s net-zero target.
It is essential when considering jobs and skills of the future that there is oversight and co-ordination of the education and training needed for green jobs, so that the right investment decisions and forward planning can be put in place to ensure that the right skills are there at the right time to meet the needs. Without this strategic overview and a link-up to national strategic priorities such as achieving our net-zero targets, which the Secretary of State can provide, there is a real risk that local skills improvement plans could identify education and training without considering the necessary alignment with national targets and, as I say, without therefore meeting the real needs of their communities.
Amendment 9 would add a net-zero and environmental “have regard” test to the matters which the Secretary of State considers when deciding whether to approve and publish local skills improvement plans. Currently, the Bill is silent as to what matters the Secretary of State might have regard to. I understand what the Minister said about this being a framework Bill, however it specifies only that
“The relevant provider must have regard to … guidance published by the Secretary of State”
without setting out what such guidance will cover. This amendment provides that
“the Secretary of State must have regard to”
the extent to which a local skills improvement plan
“contributes to the achievement of … the net zero target”
by 2050 and to the UK’s environmental goals. I quite understand why the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has tabled an amendment to my amendment to make sure we do not disregard nature and the environment, and focus only on net zero.
The Campaign for Learning concluded, in presenting its recent report Racing to Net Zero - the Role of Post-16 Education and Skills:
“Post-16 education and skills will be central to achieving climate change targets and moving to a Net Zero economy and society here in the UK.”
Business groups have also highlighted the important role that the UK’s skills strategy can play in putting the UK on track to achieve its targets. The Aldersgate Group’s CEO commented, on the publication of its report Upskilling the UK Workforce for the 21st Century, that employers and businesses recognise the importance of a joined-up future skills strategy to help the shift to a net-zero economy. Including a net-zero test within the matters that the Secretary of State must have regard to will send a signal to relevant providers—who must have regard to any guidance published by the Secretary of State—to consider how future education and skills which are material to local skills improvement plans align with the net-zero transition.
Amendment 25 is my final “net-zero test” amendment, following the advice of the Climate Change Committee that all government policies and legislation should contain within them a net-zero test. It seeks to further embed consideration of our net-zero and biodiversity targets into decision-making by providing that
“When approving and publishing a local skills improvement plan … the Secretary of State must report on how such a plan has taken account of any national skills strategy, and consider to what extent”
the plan aligns with net-zero and biodiversity targets.
My amendments are all about ensuring that consideration of those targets is embedded in legislation and that local skills improvement plans join the dots with the national strategy in this area. By making sure policies and strategies align across government and the different decision-making processes, we should be able to see real progress towards achieving net zero and addressing the nature crisis, and towards providing sustainable jobs and opportunities for the future for young people, and those who are having to make changes and learn new skills in mid-career.
I am also very supportive of the other amendments in this group: Amendments 34, 42, 73 and 75 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan; Amendments 52, 60 and 61 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Knight; Amendment 7 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Oates; and Amendments 4 and 10, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, of Manor Castle. I will listen to what they have to say about those amendments and, of course, to the Minister’s response with great interest.
Amendment 4 (to Amendment 3)
4: At end insert “and the United Kingdom’s international and national legal commitments to biodiversity targets,”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure that when considering whether post-16 technical education or training is “material” to a specified area, consideration must also be given as to whether such future skills, capabilities and expertise align with biodiversity targets.
My Lords, it is a very great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, who is doing such spectacularly fine work personally and through Peers for the Planet, of which I am also a member. I rise to move Amendment 4 and to speak to Amendment 10, and I shall also speak in favour of all the others in this group.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, referred to the important report released yesterday by Onward on green jobs. I have scratched out a lot of what I was going to say about that, as the noble Baroness covered it comprehensively, but it is worth restating the conclusion that she highlighted: net zero, the Government’s legally binding target, is not deliverable without a massive increase in relevant skills.
Speaking second in this very large group, with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, having outlined the detailed structure of her amendments and with others yet to explain theirs, in the interests of time I will speak generally to express support for all these amendments, many of which I have attached my name to. I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, and the noble Lord, Lord Oates, for their work, which I have stepped behind to support. I note particularly Amendments 3, 9 and 25, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, which have attracted broad cross-party and non-party support, including from the government Benches, and to which I would have attached my name had there been space. Then I will get to the detail of Amendments 4 and 10, which appear in my name.
All these amendments, in different ways and in different sections of the Bill, seek to mainstream attention to the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis in the skills agenda in every community. I am using the word “mainstream” because where we are today is reminding me very much of the mid-1990s, when I was working in international development. There was a great debate then, when bodies such as the World Bank and the IMF had discovered the importance of women to societies and even—shock-horror—economies. The great debate was whether to separate women’s programmes or whether women’s issues, concerns and rights should be put into every programme. It feels like, in terms of the environment, we are somewhere in that stage of debate now. We have got to a situation where recent Finance Bills, after lots of hard work in your Lordships’ House, have finally included at least the climate emergency. But I am afraid that the lack in this Bill of that, of biodiversity and of our busting of planetary boundaries in multiple directions is a demonstration that the Government still really do not get it, which is particularly disturbing for the chair of COP 26.
So I was thinking about this group and wondering how I might help the Government to understand, and how to build that understanding into action. I thought about that magic phrase “the economy” and how often we hear from the Government that everything needs to be done for “the economy”. I want to suggest to Ministers and civil servants that, every time they hear themselves saying that phrase or thinking that thought, they put “the environment” in front of it, acknowledging that the economy is a complete subset of the environment and that every single element and every penny is dependent on the air we breathe, the ground we rest on and the soil and water that produce our food. When we are thinking about local economies, we need to be thinking about local environments. To complete the set, we need an understanding that communities—people individually and collectively—and their well-being are the foundation of our economies. This is systems thinking expressed in concrete terms.
When will we know whether we have succeeded? It will be when we no longer have large groups of amendments like this merely introducing climate and other environment goals into Bills. When we move on to strengthening what the Government have proposed, then we will know that some progress has been made.
I have been talking in abstract terms but, thinking briefly about the practicalities of the skills needed, food growing is one obvious and much underconsidered area for climate mitigation and adaptation, looking to the urgent issue of food security. On home energy efficiency, I have referred previously in your Lordships’ House to how the building industry is frantically wondering where it will find the skilled staff that it will need should the Government finally manage to sort out the funding in this crucial area. Engineering, particularly for public transport schemes, is another huge area of shortage.
I turn now to my specific amendments. Amendment 4 adds “and biodiversity” to the already excellent Amendment 3; this is not in any way a criticism of it but a friendly strengthening amendment, reflecting, I am pleased to say, the way that many other amendments in this group already include biodiversity with climate.
On Amendment 10, in my name, I am not confident that the way it is currently worded is the best way, referring to specific regulations; what I am talking about is particularly broader. I chose that wording to stress the way in which the Bill needs to fit with other expressed government aims. In the Grand Committee debate on the regulations referred to in this amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, said that
“ecodesign policies have also included resource efficiency measures, which seek to make products more repairable and recyclable, thereby reducing their use of material resources.”
He went on to say:
“A wider range of spare parts and helpful information will be made available to professional repairers, which will facilitate even more complex repairs to be carried out by people with the right skills to do it safely.”—[Official Report, 8/6/21; cols. GC 264-65.]
Yet I doubt that there is anyone in the House today who has not had personal experience of how hard it is to find and secure the services of such a professional repairer. One recent case study I know of concerned someone who sought, from a fairly high-end manufacturer, a repairer for a washing machine. The first available appointment was 10 weeks after the call.
What we are talking about here are fairly obvious environmental measures, so you might say they are covered by the other amendments in this group. But we need a specific focus on the need for repair skills, something that has essentially almost entirely disappeared from our communities. We should see, as we have seen happening in some communities in some places, local repair shops practically on every street corner, so that people could go to them and get things fixed. But that would require a huge injection of skills. I would very much welcome further discussion on the best ways to structure an amendment such as this. A clear direction of the need to build repair skills needs, I believe, to be a distinct part of this Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, before I call the noble Lord, Lord Oates, I must inform the House that three noble Lords—the noble Lords, Lord Rooker, Lord Young of Norwood Green and Lord Adonis—have scratched their names from the debate on this group and those on all subsequent groups.
My Lords, thank you. I was confused, but I am happy to go with the flow.
This group of amendments addresses the green gap in this Bill. A large number of amendments have been tabled in this group, all of which are very worthy and have my support. I single out for special mention that in the names of my noble friends Lord Oates and Lord Storey, signed also by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. However, in the interest of time, I will speak only to the set of amendments to which my name is attached.
I turn first to Amendments 3, 9 and 25, all in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Morgan, the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, and myself. In doing so, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for her work in establishing the Peers for the Planet group, which is such a professional asset to this House. Her work and words in introducing these three amendments mean that I can be much more brief. The opening clause in this Bill, which fixes a strategy for the skills that we will need to fill the jobs of the future, is silent on our net-zero biodiversity targets. This seems rather inadequate, for want of a better or stronger word. This is a real weakness in the Bill, not least because it presents a risk that skills or education plans that are incompatible with our green targets—both national and international —might pass without remark and without basis for challenge.
These three amendments are therefore very necessary. They are designed to ensure that consideration of net-zero and biodiversity targets is embedded in the decision-making process around assessing future skills needed in each local area through the local skills improvement plans. Amendment 9 gives the Secretary of State the responsibility for ensuring that any approved LSIP is compliant with net-zero and biodiversity targets. Amendment 25 places a duty on the Secretary of State to report on how approved LSIPs meet the net-zero and biodiversity targets. These amendments will ensure that we have the right jobs in the right place in the future, which will be critical if we want to build back better and greener.
I turn to Amendment 34, in my name with the welcome support of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. Supporting and generating green jobs is a lynchpin of the Government’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution. This amendment will help the Government meet those aims by ensuring that, when designating an employer representative body, the Secretary of State must be satisfied that,
“the body has prepared a climate change and sustainability strategy”.
It would serve to demonstrate that ERBs are making the link between the local and the national skills needed and are taking heed of the opportunities regarding climate change and biodiversity.
Amendment 42, in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, asks that a governing body, in reviewing how well education or training meets local needs, must also consider whether it aligns with the net-zero target. This amendment would consolidate the link between local and national skills needs with respect to the UK’s net-zero target from the perspective of governing bodies of general FE colleges, sixth-form colleges and designated institutions. It would be an important requirement that would open welcome collaborative discourse between institutions, ERBs and the Government, the lack of provision for which is a weakness of the Bill.
In subsection (2) of the new Section 52B inserted by Clause 5, the review is bolstered by guidance that provides an opportunity for the Secretary of State to ensure that there is a joined-up approach to the way institutions are factoring in net zero when considering how well education or training aligns with our net-zero target. Subsection (3) requires the governing body to publish the review on its website, which would allow for transparency and the identification of best practice, along with any barriers, gaps and inconsistencies, including in relation to net zero.
I turn to Amendment 73, in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle and Lady Blackstone, and Amendment 75 in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. These amendments seek to introduce conditions for inclusion in the list of relevant providers kept by the Secretary of State. Amendment 73 seeks to introduce a condition that relevant providers on the list must have either adopted or be in the process of developing a climate change and sustainability strategy. Amendment 75 seeks to link the provision of funding for relevant providers with either the adoption or development of a climate change and sustainability strategy. Both amendments seek to incentivise progress within the further education sector in embedding climate change and sustainability within their overall strategies, recognising, however, that some providers will be further on in this process than others and that funding and capacity might be an issue for some. Amendment 73 therefore allows for relevant providers to be in the process of developing a strategy.
Taken together, the amendments to which I have spoken reflect a holistic joined-up approach to ensure that all stakeholders working to deliver the right jobs in the right place are conscious of their responsibility in tackling climate change and biodiversity loss. We must not forget that the people who will fill these jobs —especially the younger ones—want jobs that will secure their future, both in terms of longevity of work and in terms of protecting our planet and their physical futures. As it happens, their priorities and needs align with the nation’s priorities and needs, and this Bill must be amended to reflect those.
My Lords, I remind your Lordships of my interests in the register, particularly my advice to Purpose on climate education, my membership of Peers for the Planet and the advice I give to 01 Founders on skills development. I thank my noble friend Lady Blackstone for adding her name to my Amendment 52.
The effect of my Amendments 52 is that, when the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education is approving or withdrawing qualifications, it must describe how its decisions align with UK climate change and biodiversity targets. Amendments 60 and 61 aim to ensure that any conditions or guidance to initial teacher training for further education must consider whether they incorporate the UK’s climate change and biodiversity goals. I think that these are important, along with the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, which I very much support and to which I have added my name. I support the other amendments in this group as well. I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, when she introduced this group and said that she considered herself no great expert in this area of skills. I consider myself no great expert on climate change, so we sort of meet somewhere in the middle.
There is a bit of a problem, in a way that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, was referring to, that in education debates, when we start talking about climate change, people glaze over and say, “Well, it is not really our concern; this is not really our business.” Equally, when we have climate change debates and start talking about education, people say, “Why are you talking about education? That is not really anything to do with it.” The reality is, however, that the two are critically important. It is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said, shocking that the Government ultimately do not quite get it, in that the policy and the Bill are silent on sustainability and that we need to address that somehow or other in this Bill.
First, at the time of chairing COP 26, if we are going to be credible, we need to show that we are meeting our treaty obligations that we signed up to in 2015 in the Paris Agreement, particularly in Article 12, which says that,
“Parties shall co-operate in taking measures, as appropriate, to enhance climate change education”
Secondly, there is growing pressure to ensure that the education system plays its part on climate change. The Climate Change Committee recommended that the Government consider
“the wider role of the education system in supporting the transition to a net-zero economy and preparing for the risks of climate change”.
Education can play a critical role in driving the behaviour change that we need every citizen of the world to adopt if we are to meet the targets that we want to agree in Glasgow. Some 80% of those participating in Parliament’s climate assembly believed that climate should be a compulsory subject in all schools; this would extend to colleges, which are covered by this Bill because we are talking about provision for 16 to 18 year-olds. Of course, participation up to 18 is now compulsory.
Thirdly, post-16 students want and expect this. According to the Association of Colleges, 91% of students agree that their place of study should actively incorporate and promote sustainable development, while 83% want to see sustainable development actively incorporated and promoted through all courses. Their lecturers agree: 94% of people working in FE colleges believe that all UK learners should be taught about sustainability issues, not just the knowledge. Also, 84% of them feel that, for the sector to be fit for purpose, education policy needs significant change, with the formal curriculum cited as the biggest barrier as to why environmental sustainability is not more prevalent.
Of course, on the narrow issue of skills, these arguments may not be strong enough to persuade Ministers, so I will have a go at coming at it from that angle. If Governments around the world are prioritising this skills agenda because of the rapid deskilling effects of globalisation and technological change, and see in the rust belt—or the red wall seats in this country—the political consequences of people feeling left behind, the stakes are high. The sense of abandonment in those communities is a sign of a reactive skills system that is tortuously slow.
The Bill carries the risk of local skills partnerships responding by planning their immediate skills needs rather than anticipating their future skills needs. They will then wait for the necessary qualifications to be developed and approved if they do not already exist. Then, they will need the necessary staff and learners to be recruited, by which time their skills needs may well have changed. This slow process of deskilling and reskilling needs to factor in now the impact of decisions that we are making on climate change, so you add climate change to the deskilling effects of technological change and globalisation. The transition from a carbon-based to a zero-carbon economy needs to be a just transition.
Look at cars. We all welcome Nissan’s announcement in Sunderland last week, but what of car maintenance? It was truly shocking to me when, last month, Wrexham College appeared to become the first FE college in the country to be able to proclaim proudly that it is now training its students to maintain electric vehicles. I am flabbergasted that we did not have that training going on in this country already—and that is just maintenance. The motor industry does not really want us to talk about the possibility of converting our internal combustion engine cars to electric ones, but those who are selling conversion kits and carrying out that work are doing a roaring trade and cannot sell their kits fast enough. There are huge economic opportunities for us if we can get the skills story right just in that one area. I am supportive of Amendment 10 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, which concerns repairs and is in the similar territory of being more sustainable because we would be making the resources that we already own last that bit longer by repairing them and converting them to zero carbon.
This needs cross-cutting knowledge beyond technical skills in the silos that, to some extent, it feels as though the Bill wants to trap us all in by making us think mostly about STEM skills as the qualifications for which the Government want to be able to approve funding, rather than the creative—nay, imaginative—skills and cross-cutting thinking that we need to work across silos. According to the Association of Colleges, just one in 200 of our further education qualifications covers education for sustainability; its audit of the T-level curriculum identified similar deficiencies. This is not good enough.
There is evidence of the need for provision in the national curriculum for schools, which I will look to address in my Private Member’s Bill a week on Friday; if anyone is interested in signing up for that debate, the list is open. However, climate and sustainability are similarly lacking post 16, so we have to do this. The problem then, in the post-16 environment, is how to shift the sector towards prioritising this because we do not have a national curriculum at the post-16 level for us to impose things. As I have already said, it is not in many qualifications and there is not really much of a pastoral role post 16.
So how do we do it? In this Bill, we are moving to a demand-led system so, through the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, we are seeking to influence that demand by trying to influence what is going on in terms of the local skills partnerships’ demand for this sort of thinking, mindset and learning. In my Amendment 52, I am asking for the qualifications regulator also to have to think about this. Given that IfATE has already issued a non-mandatory sustainability framework, I am seeking merely to ensure that that framework has proper status and that the regulator must continue to have regard to it.
On my other two amendments, we need teachers who are confident and competent in talking about sustainable development and climate change across the curriculum and across different subjects. I am doing some work with the Eden Project at the moment; some of the work it has done to point out how you can teach learners about—and give them confidence on—sustainable development and climate change across the whole curriculum, not just geography and science, is really instructive.
In many ways, my inclination would be to leave it to the professionalism of teachers to get on with that, but that is not really the style of this Government. They like teachers to be told what they are supposed to do in their training; yesterday, they announced a consultation on initial teacher training in which they are trying to prescribe absolutely everything. Oxford University and Cambridge University have already denounced this, saying that, in that case, they will abandon ITT. I will not get too distracted by that but I will say that, if the Government want to prescribe initial teacher training, they need to prescribe putting climate change and sustainable development in it.
Finally, I am still thinking about whether we might want to put in a new clause amendment around an entitlement for post-16 learners to be able to access sustainable development education, but I will first listen to what the Minister has to say in response to this group before I decide whether I am persuaded that we need to go down that road.
I will speak in support of Amendment 25 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman, Lady Sheehan and Lady Morgan of Cotes, and the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth. It contains a very interesting idea. It proposes that, when a local skills improvement plan has been devised for, say, Plymouth or Newcastle or Doncaster, the Secretary of State should examine it to see whether it accords with the national skills strategy and—this is of particular interest to the noble Baronesses—the UK’s climate change and biodiversity targets; it could include other things where there are clear targets as well, of course. The sadness of this is that the noble Lords talk about the national skills strategy when there ain’t no such thing, I am afraid. I wish that there were, but it simply has not developed. It ought to develop because there is no doubt that there is a substantial deficiency across the country in skills in a whole variety of different industries.
The Government used to publish skills gaps. The body that did it was called the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. It was abolished by the Government in 2016 because a group of advisers said to them that they did not really think much about these skills gaps because they are often speculative guesses. I am afraid that this is a further example of a Government who are not listening because there is certainly a large number of skills gaps in our country.
The noble Lord, Lord Storey, and I are both members of the Select Committee on Youth Unemployment, which now takes evidence twice a week. We are getting a lot of evidence not only from businesses but from students themselves that there are skills gaps. For example, we had evidence from one think thank that had examined 1,000 companies in Britain, large and small, stretching from national audio technology to pubs. Of those 1,000 companies, 76% of the CEOs said that the thing that was holding them back most was the absence of data employees—data analysts in particular—and people who understood artificial intelligence. That was the biggest inhibition on their growth and development. If that is not a skills gap, I do not know what is, quite frankly.
There are skills gaps in a host of other industries. One recent example that I am sure Members of this House have seen is that we have suddenly discovered that there is a skills gap of 10,000 HGV drivers. I would have thought that this might have been anticipated at some stage and we would have realised that we were desperately short of these people. So many of them have gone back to eastern Europe and the Balkans, and they are not being encouraged to come back. The transport ministry should have had some idea of what was likely to happen in this area.
One body, the education think tank the Edge Foundation, of which for a time I was the chairman, tried to fill in the gap. It produced a series of reports. It established large committees for each industry involving industry and academics, estimating what the skills gaps were. The first one was on engineering. The skills gap there was 203,000. That figure was agreed and supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering. There was another one on digital skills. It was well over 100,000 two years ago; I suspect that it is much higher now. There was one on the creative industries, which showed a skills gap of 150,000. Yet, because these were not formal government statements, the Government took very little interest in and paid little regard to them. How can you fashion an education system if you have no idea what your national economy wants in the way of skilled workers? There is a dysfunction between the education system based on academic subjects and the needs of industry. There is absolutely no doubt about that. This is one of the causes of the high level of youth unemployment at the moment.
I suggest that the Government consider asking a department—not the Department for Education because it has very little connection with industry, but perhaps the DWP—to estimate and publish on a regular basis skill gaps for various industries. Without that, how can you shape education and training systems, and indeed an apprenticeship system, without knowing exactly what is needed by the local and national industries in our economy?
My Lords, we listened with interest to some rather engaging and forceful Second Reading speeches on the first group this afternoon. I noted that my noble friend Lord Adonis took one view that this was a terrible Bill and my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green took a different one that this was actually a good Bill. I find myself somewhere in between, but I want to be more pragmatic than they are. This is Committee. We have some opportunities in Committee to make a Bill better. I hope that that is what we will achieve at least in some respects.
At Second Reading I chose to talk largely about the missed opportunity in the Bill to try to link what we do in the educational system with the huge challenges that climate change and getting to our net-zero target by 2050 pose for us. I hope the Government will take the amendments in this group really seriously, because they at least begin to do just that.
I strongly support Amendments 3, 9 and 25, which are in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Sheehan, my noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth and the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Cotes, who sadly is not here today. The others all spoke very eloquently and at some length on why it is important that the Bill should be amended to take account of the Government’s policies on climate change and their goal of a net-zero target on carbon emissions by the middle of the century. I do not want to add anything new to what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said in her opening speech because she covered it all. I endorse with some passion the position they have taken.
I say to the Minister that if the Government reject these arguments and these amendments, it will demonstrate a lack of joined-up thinking across government between those who are concerned primarily with climate change issues, such as Defra, and the Department for Education. As the noble Lord, Lord Baker, just said, other departments of course have a relevant interest in this, such as the DWP and the business department, but it would be perverse for the Government to push these amendments back.
I also very much support what my noble friend Lord Knight said. As I implied, he is absolutely right to want to link climate change issues and educational issues and objectives. He has come up with a mechanism in Amendment 52, to which I put my name, for how we might begin to do this. Before I get into that amendment, I will pick up what he said about students. We know from countless opinion polls that many young people are very concerned about these issues. We have some obligation to take them seriously in their wish for more to be done in their educational experience to discuss, debate and find routes through how we will prevent the planet collapsing under the serious impact of climate change later this century.
I turn to Amendment 52. There are in this country hundreds—indeed, thousands—of different qualifications in the wide range of skills that students seek to acquire after the age of 16 and then throughout their careers. I am talking not just about young people; this is a lifelong learning Bill. Indeed, there are probably too many of these qualifications. There have been countless attempts at rationalisation, including back in the days when I had ministerial responsibility in this area. I cannot say that I was all that successful and I do not think that people have been successful since. Any modernisation or restructuring of skills qualifications must surely take into account the importance of the climate change and biodiversity targets.
This would place a big responsibility on the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education in regulating qualifications. To create a genuinely green economy we must provide training and the skills required. We must also think, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said, about the large numbers of unemployed people. They must be given help to acquire some of these skills. To fail to meet our targets because there are not enough skilled and qualified people to undertake the challenging work needed across many different sectors of the economy would be a truly tragic failure.
The Bill has a role in trying to avoid that failure. It is a great opportunity to put in place the mechanisms needed to signal approval of qualifications that properly address needs in this area and disapproval of those that fail to do so and, worse, which incorporate approaches, whether in the materials or operations deployed, that damage the environment. It is key that we do something about this. I hope the Minister will agree that leadership, accompanied by transparency on the part of the regulators, will encourage apprenticeship and technical education systems to be at the forefront of the delivery of skills to the green economy.
Lastly, I will speak to Amendment 73, to which I have also added my name, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. The Secretary of State is to keep a list of relevant providers. It does not seem a lot to insist that one of the conditions to be on this list is that the provider should be committed to tackling climate change and biodiversity loss by having created a strategy to do so that is made openly available by publishing it. I cannot think of any FE college given this challenge that would not want to rise to it—and it is true not only of FE colleges but of other providers in the skills training sector. So, once again, I hope the Government will take this seriously and come back with a response that will give us at least some hope of achieving in this Bill what I set out earlier in this short speech: the bringing together of education and climate change objectives.
My Lords, I would very much like to support what the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, has just said, and I hope that the Government will find a way of bringing forward amendments that take into account the spirit of all the amendments that have been tabled. This is self-evidently necessary.
We have a great debate going on in part of government about how on earth we are going to replace our gas boilers, and there is a big debate about who is going to bear the cost. Is it going to fall disproportionately on the poor? Well, it is all very well having this theoretical debate, but what I am sure of is that there are not the people available with the skills to do this job within the five-year, 10-year or 15-year timeframe that has been talked about. The Government have to be more joined-up about these things if they are serious about addressing the climate challenge.
But there is a more general point here that exposes another potential weakness in this Bill. The emphasis of the Bill is on local skills improvement plans. This is looking at the present local situation, not at future requirements, and there has to be some means of injecting future requirements into the preparation of these local plans. The noble Baroness talked about the productivity and skills that are going to do this job for us, we hope. I welcome this, because I wholly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, said: it was a great mistake to abolish the UKCES; it was a very good body that produced very good work.
There are things such as skills gaps, and the fact is that, particularly with Brexit, with leaving the European Union, you would have thought that a Government determined to make a success of us having left the European Union would be looking at the skills consequences of our exit for the future. But what evidence is there that this is being done? We need to have a serious think not just about new skills required by climate change but about new skills that are necessary in our economy as a result of the changes we have imposed on ourselves.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly on this group to express my support in particular for Amendment 25, in the names of my noble friend Lady Hayman and others, about the requirement for approved LSIPs to take account of “any national skills strategy”. I think the clue is in the “any”. I fully support that idea, and I am wondering how it could actually be met. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, pointed out some of the challenges in the absence of such a plan. I wonder whether the Minister can tell us anything about what sort of national or central co-ordination there will be and how that might work in terms of alignment with LSIPs. What sort of processes or feedback mechanisms will there be to ensure that there is that alignment, and indeed that it is clear what the LSIPs are seeking to align with? My noble friend described it as “joining the dots” with national strategy. What is the flow of communication in reporting and monitoring between LSIPs and the centre?
My noble friend Lady Hayman also talked about a cross-cutting, long-term, aspirational skills strategy, which would be splendid. The word that struck me there was “aspirational”, because the main challenge when I used to work with young Londoners on employability skills was their lack of aspiration and lack of knowledge of what to aspire to—which is why I was so passionate about careers education. Yet it is aspiration that has driven most successful education strategies in the past and created forward movement. This Bill is essentially an aspirational Bill, and that is why I welcome it quite strongly. So I suppose the question—which I am not sure whether I am asking the Minister or myself—is: how will it actually raise aspirations? And how can it build on young people’s enthusiasm, which the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, mentioned, for issues relating to climate change and biodiversity to create momentum that will feed in, hopefully, and perhaps through the LSIPs, to drive the objectives of the Bill?
The only other point I wanted to make is that I am rather less enamoured of Amendments 73 and 75 in this group, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, and others, which would require independent training providers to have a climate change and sustainability strategy and a delivery plan. Many of those independent training providers are SMEs: they can be very small; they tend to specialise in certain areas; they are often operating with limited resources on extremely narrow margins. I am already concerned about some of the other conditions being suggested for them to be on the list, and this seems potentially disproportionate. I would certainly encourage them to have such a plan as far as it is relevant to them, but putting it on the face of the Bill would seem to be overkill.
My Lords, as a member of Peers for the Planet, I rise to support all the amendments in this group, for the reasons so eloquently given by the movers and to simply emphasise two points. First, as many other noble Lords have said, students themselves want to take part in reaching our zero-carbon targets. Arguably, they are more committed to this than the generations with power, like ours. These amendments would increase their motivation for further education and training, and their confidence in politics and democratic participation.
Secondly, and perhaps more fundamentally, following the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, may I say that this potentially most useful Bill seems to have been drafted in ignorance of the most long-lasting world crisis of our time: the climate emergency? Surely, all government departments must play what part they can in avoiding climate-borne disaster and in adapting to climate change. There is scant evidence that the targets set out by the Government have been taken on board by all departments and integrated into all their policies. These amendments would go far to assist the education department in fulfilling this aim.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has withdrawn from the debate, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley.
My Lords, if there was an outbreak of consensus across the Committee on the previous amendments, I am afraid I am going to ruin the party in this group. If the aim of the Bill is to expand opportunities and horizons in terms of training and skills acquisition that will allow wider access to jobs, I think we need to be wary of any attempts at narrowing what is on offer, especially if it is being driven by satisfying political hobby-horses. Surely that is what this series of amendments does, in a way, in trying to limit post-16 technical education and training by aligning them with net-zero, climate change and biodiversity targets. I am opposed to them all.
For some time, we have heard from Governments—not just the present one but previous Administrations—a lot of hyperbole about the green jobs revolution. I have yet to see many of those jobs materialise; the targets set rarely mean much. I have no problem at all with new skills being developed or taught potentially for these green jobs—for example in solar, or electric vehicle maintenance at Wrexham college, my local college, which I was delighted to hear about. Well done to the college for having the foresight to do that, but I wonder about the implications beyond that.
I want to ask the signatories to the amendments whether they would oppose those who, never mind training in electric vehicle maintenance, want to just be car mechanics working on those old-fashioned evil diesel vehicles. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, talked about HGV drivers—are they allowed? They are hardly going to fit in with the net-zero carbon targets. What about the nuclear industry? I happen to think that nuclear is a good source of energy for environmentalists, but most of the environmentalists I know disagree with me. Will the amendments approve of training, for example, in mining engineering in Cornwall in order to access the local lithium that is so important for battery-driven technology, or is mining verboten? After all, valuable job opportunities in Cumbrian mining have been put on hold after eco-lobbying stopped Whitehaven creating domestic coking possibilities for the steel industry.
What about fracking? I know that not everybody agrees with me; that is why it is a debate. There is now a moratorium on fracking, but say, for example, that that moratorium was lifted by the Government and it was revealed that this was a safe source of energy that would create new jobs and therefore need new skills and training. I am just not sure whether this would fit in with these amendments. In other words, will they allow young people to train as pilots in the airline and tourism industries, in plastics, or in construction and planning if those areas clash with green targets? Noble Lords get the gist of what I am saying.
The noble Baroness talked about the need for reskilling to transition from carbon-intensive industries. At the moment, there is a political attempt at forcing the closure of those carbon-intensive industries; they are being closed for political reasons. I personally was involved in fighting Margaret Thatcher over the closure of the coal industry, and now I find myself trying to defend industries that progressives and radicals argue should be closed.
I think there is a broader issue here of a philosophical clash between an ambitious industrial growth strategy—which, by the way, I admire; at least the Government are trying to go for it as part of a levelling-up agenda, and I hope that the Bill might help to reskill and upskill many workers and young people as part of that ambitious industrial growth—and the philosophical association around environmentalism with sustainability, low growth, limiting innovation and so on. There is at least a tension there.
I have another couple of points, particularly in relation to some of the things I have heard so far in Committee. On education, at least some of us have worried historically when Governments of all stripes have interfered in the schools curriculum to push a particular political agenda. I always worry when NGOs or lobby groups attempt to inveigle their way into schools to push a particular political agenda.
However, I am no keener on the pushing of a political agenda by this Bill, or the politicising of the skills agenda. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, called this mainstreaming, but I would say that it is an attempt to shoehorn the climate emergency into all areas of FE and training. Practically, it feels like an environmentally correct net zero straitjacket that will limit choices and create ever more hurdles in the way of accrediting courses, apprenticeships and so on.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Knight, who said that further education had no national curriculum, which was very unfortunate, as it meant that we could not change it. To me, that is like hijacking the national curriculum, and that should not be done either. It is a sort of brainwashing—or at least an attempt to brainwash.
Many rank-and-file lecturers in higher education, although not necessarily the trade union bureaucrats, are totally exasperated by the institutional signing up of their universities and colleges—usually by their HR or PR departments trying to earn brownie points—to all sorts of politicised charters and strategies. They complain that that can often compromise academic freedom, mandating one view of the world in relation to sustainability, with no debate allowed. For example, lecturers in architecture, engineering and economics have all said that because their institution is signed up to some sustainability charter, their views, which clash with that, get them into trouble.
The last thing I want to do is to impose these orthodoxies on the further education sector. Those who say that the only reason they are pushing this is because it is what students really want, rather than what people in the House of Lords want, are being a bit opportunist, to say the least. I am not convinced, because this is a Bill about training, and we should stick to that.
My Lords, I apologise for my confusion when I was mistakenly called earlier, and mistakenly responded. I declare my interests as chair of the advisory board of Weber Shandwick UK.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, I was unable to be here for Second Reading—although had I known that people can make Second Reading speeches in Committee, I could perhaps have done that today. But I will not. Also like the noble Baroness, I am no expert on education. However, because climate change covers so many areas, I am finding out that in this context we have to try to learn quickly. I am particularly nervous about making a foray into the field of education and skills in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, who was Education Secretary when I was at school, so I do this with some trepidation.
I support the objectives of all the amendments in this group, including those in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, to whom I pay tribute for her exemplary work as co-chair of Peers for the Planet, and those in the name of my noble friend Lady Sheehan and others. Amendment 7, in my name and in those of my noble friend Lord Storey and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, seeks, as do other amendments in this group, to rectify the lack of any focus in the Bill on the wide range of skills that will be required if we are to have any hope of tackling the climate and ecological emergency. It does so in the specific context of the skills capability and expertise required in particular areas, to contribute towards national and regional decarbonisation strategies.
We need to recognise that the local needs for skills to tackle our climate and biodiversity challenges will differ between areas. Different expertise will be needed in different areas, so we must ensure that the skills required to achieve net zero are reflected in local skills plans, and are locally appropriate.
The local dimension is often missing from thinking on net zero, so local input will be critical, and it is important that there is joined-up thinking from all the parties involved and that the important role of local authorities in this regard is fully recognised. I was interested to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, had to say. She will not be surprised or distressed, I imagine, to hear that I disagree with her. Climate change is a little bit more than a political hobbyhorse. It is a very alarming fact of life that we are facing and hoping to deal with.
The recent debacle of the green homes grant illustrates the problems that we have with skills. Half a million homes were to receive energy efficiency upgrades under the programme. In fact, a tiny fraction of them were delivered before the scheme was closed. However, in the short time of its operation, the one thing that was clear as day was the desperate shortage of skills to deliver the massive programme that is required. Something like 28 million homes will need to be upgraded, and we have not got much time. The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, also highlighted that whatever decisions the Government may eventually make on decarbonising our home heating, at the moment we simply do not have the skills to deliver it.
My attempt to take advantage of the green homes grant scheme and get a contractor to provide exterior wall insulation for my house was entirely unsuccessful. All the contractors capable and approved were not taking on any more work because they lacked staff with the skills to deliver to the demand that had been stimulated by the Government’s policy initiative. Across the country, that absence of skills was obvious, but by closing the scheme in the peremptory way that they did, the Government compounded that skills crisis by undermining any faith that contractors might have had that it was worth them investing and engaging in the skills training process. If we are to get ourselves out of the climate and ecological crisis that we face and that we have created for our planet, we must start by providing skills for young people in our workforce, and we must start at local level by identifying and addressing the needs and requirements of local areas and harnessing partnerships between local authorities, national government and education and skills providers, as these amendments seek to do.
Above all, we must provide the policy stability that will give private sector employers the confidence to invest in skills training. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, rightly said, beyond the needs of employers and the economy, we must also take account of the desire of young people to have these issues addressed in their education. I do not think that it is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, said, some opportunist comment from us in the House of Lords. If you go into schools and FE colleges and talk to young people, they are desperate about the situation that climate change is causing because they will have to deal with it much more severely than we are, and they want those issues to be addressed. We must react to that.
As this debate has underlined, it is, in the word used by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, extraordinary that in the year when we host COP 26, the year when the Government have published their 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution and the year when the Government have committed to a 68% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and a 78% reduction by 2035, they have brought forward a skills Bill that has no reference whatever to climate change or to the need for green skills for the future. It is no wonder that we had a despairing report from the Climate Change Committee last month that the Government are woefully short of the measures required to come anywhere meeting their targets.
What is going on in the Department for Education? Is it not aware of the climate and ecological emergency that we face? Was it not apprised of the Prime Minister’s promise of a green industrial revolution, or does it think that it can be delivered without skills? Whatever the reason, it is certainly extraordinary that the Government appear so unjoined-up.
I worry that there is little coherent understanding across government about the scale of what has to be done to meet the targets that the Government sometimes seem so blithely to set. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said, sometimes they just do not seem to get it. This is not the first Bill that we have been engaged on where there is no mention of climate change. The Financial Services Bill earlier this year contained not a word about it until, with the encouragement of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, me and other noble Lords, the Government were constructive, engaged and finally brought forward an amendment. That should not have to be the case, but I am very glad that we had a Minister in this House who listened and got his department to listen, so I very much hope that out of this debate the Minister will understand the strength of feeling on this subject, take the issue away in a similarly constructive vein and come back with government amendments that can address this gaping chasm in the Bill.
My Lords, I have listened carefully to the many excellent contributions in this debate. Much has been said so I will self-edit as I speak, in much the same way as I used to five minutes before the bell rang at the end of the school day.
It is extremely disappointing that the Bill fails to link the Government’s goals on decarbonisation in energy, transport and buildings, sustainable land management and carbon sequestration. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, noted in her persuasive opening speech, there should be a cross-cutting skills strategy. It is worth repeating that there is currently not a single reference to climate considerations in the Bill. The needs of the education sector and industry are liable to change the skills of tomorrow, as mentioned in the previous debate, and cannot be put aside. Monumental changes are needed to include net zero and biodiversity at every level, and targets should be embedded in the LSIPs to provide sustainable jobs in future.
Our Amendment 36, which will come up in the next group, sets out conditions for ERBs, including the requirement to have regard to national strategies, including the decarbonisation strategy. Not only will those entering the labour force for the first time need to be prepared for green jobs—green jobs already exist, and they will exist much more in future—but many who currently work in fossil fuel sectors will need retraining. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, said, everything needs to be done for the economy and the environment is a subset of the economy. Her point, among many others, regarding the need for repair skills was particularly apposite. My noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth’s amendments regarding education policy are extremely important in affirming our future behaviours.
Does the Minister agree that there should be a requirement for skills improvement plans to refer to national objectives on the green economy, including the net-zero targets, or associated sector-specific strategies, such as the industrial decarbonisation strategy, the transport decarbonisation strategy, the energy White Paper, the nature strategy and the heating and buildings strategy? I hope the Minister has taken note of the cross-party consensus on this issue and that she will be sympathetic to the thrust of the amendments and include references to climate considerations, net zero and biodiversity in the Bill.
My Lords, I think there is a theme here, with the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, asking about putting this in the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, was incredibly gracious when she referred to the nature of the Bill and the fact that it is, as I outlined, a framework to enable the flexibility that the employer representative body would need to make the local skills improvement plan.
As the Minister for COP 26 and for sustainability in the Department for Education, overseeing the department’s capital budget and with over 60,000 blocks within our school estate, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Oates, that it is a serious matter. On 10 June I had the pleasure of meeting the Climate Change Committee to talk through the department’s proposed strategy in relation to the net-zero target. I have also had the pleasure of meeting incredibly articulate young people from Mock COP, who made very clear to me their passion about what we should be doing at COP 26 and to reduce our emissions.
I assure the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Sheehan, and the noble Lord, Lord Knight, that there will not be a green gap in the guidance. I think that we are back to an agreement that this is an incredibly important priority. We have passed the legislation embedding this, but it is a case of whether it is placed in the Bill or is something that is for the guidance.
Before I address the specific amendments, I just want to outline for the noble Lords, Lord Oates and Lord Liddle, and my noble friend Lord Baker that the Skills and Productivity Board, which is the national specialist on our skills, will publish three analyses this year about three questions that were posed by the Secretary of State. The first considers the most significant skills shortages in England, and the board will consider net-zero skills shortages as part of that. Obviously, it is an independent board, so I do not know what the outcomes and recommendations will be, but we are looking specifically at what the skills gaps are.
In June 2019, the UK became the first major country to legislate for this net-zero target for carbon emissions by 2050, making it clear that a systems approach was needed to drive behaviour across all areas of the economy to guide decisions by citizens, businesses and investors. I think that we are back to that interesting legal question: once you have put it in that piece of legislation, what then flows in terms of legislation we are passing? But as I say, on the basis of this, the guidance will be very clear in relation to the net-zero target.
The Green Jobs Taskforce, which was launched in November 2020, is working in partnership with businesses, skills providers and unions to help the Government develop plans for new, long-term and good-quality green jobs by 2030, and advises what support is needed for the transitioning industries mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox.
I turn to the amendments, seven of which are closely related to Clause 1, concerning the local skills improvement plans, supporting the transition to a net-zero economy and biodiversity. These are from the noble Lord, Lord Oates, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman, Lady Bennett and Lady Sheehan. Reference was made to the fact that there is now that biodiversity target which will also be in legislation, mirroring the net-zero target. The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, asked whether the Secretary of State would approve an LSIP that was not compatible with net zero or biodiversity, and I will answer her straight on. The Secretary of State will want to be satisfied that the statutory guidance has been followed in the process of developing a plan to approve and publish it and, in developing LSIPs, statutory guidance will require ERBs—employer representative bodies—to have regard to skills needs relating to national priorities such as net zero and green jobs. I hope that I have answered directly that putting it in the guidance will not diminish the requirements there will be on the ERBs.
I can assure noble Lords that net zero, green technology and decarbonisation were common themes in the proposals that we received from the employer representative bodies seeking to lead our local skills improvement panel trailblazers. Again, we will be ensuring through the guidance that this remains the case for longer-term implementation. We are not seeing any lack of consideration of this in the initial pilots, but in developing the local skills improvement plan, the statutory guidance will require the ERBs to have regard to skills needs relating to these national priorities. The expectation is that the guidance issued by the Secretary of State under Clause 1 will reflect zero-carbon goals as businesses and employers respond to climate change and the biodiversity agenda. As I have outlined, the process for approval by the Secretary of State will very much be based on what has been taken into consideration and whether the statutory guidance has been followed. The presence of these targets within that is key.
Amendment 42, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, seeks to introduce the requirement for colleges to include considerations on reaching the UK’s net-zero target as part of the regular review. In regularly reviewing their provision in relation to local needs, colleges will play an active part in strengthening the alignment of their curriculum offer with skills needed and the job market in their local area. Over time, we expect the environment agenda to become an increasingly integral part of the curriculum offer, reflecting wider changes across the economy and society, including the changing skills needed by employers.
I turn to Amendment 52 in name of the noble Lord, Lord Knight. I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about our ambitious technical qualification reforms. He mentioned the commitment of the Institute for Apprenticeship and Technical Education—IfATE—to the UK’s biodiversity and climate change targets. That is why it has already embedded environmental and sustainability aims within its processes for developing and updating employer-led occupational standards. These are the standards on which apprenticeships, T-levels and higher technical qualifications are based, and on which a broad range of technical qualifications will be based in the future. Along with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the institute has identified the need for integrating sustainability across technical education to support us in achieving our commitments.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, also referred to the sustainability framework developed by the institute, which sets out the key themes for employers across all sectors to consider when developing the occupational standards. It acts as a guide for those involved in the development of standards and ensures that when considering the knowledge, skills and behaviours required for any occupation, they have considered sustainability, net-zero carbon and the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals, which include a goal on climate action. I reassure noble Lords that this really has been embedded and is perhaps another example of where primary legislation might not be the correct place.
I turn to the amendments in relation to initial teacher training. I assure noble Lords that specific steps are already being undertaken to ensure that teacher training programmes cover appropriate content, including specifically around sustainability. Our reform of FE teacher training is founded on new occupational standards for FE teaching, which we expect to be available for use in the next academic year. It has been developed with a group of employers across the sector, including colleges and other training providers. Again, we expect the standard to include a requirement for teachers to integrate sustainability into their teaching, including through modelling sustainable practices and promoting sustainable development principles in their subject specialism. Again, I hope that it will not be necessary to put that on the face of a piece of legislation when it is actually happening.
There was some disagreement among noble Lords in relation to Amendments 73 and 75 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, commented on the issue here. We would be putting a requirement on SMEs that is not placed on businesses in many other contexts. Perhaps more pertinently, the purpose of the list of registered providers —independent training providers, not those in FE—will be to protect learners and reduce the disruption to provision if a business fails. This was a matter for discussion in Your Lordships’ House during the passage of the Technical and Further Education Bill four years ago. I am pleased that we are now looking at this, but the singular purpose of the clause is to protect learners in the event of provider failure. It would not be appropriate to extend it to achieve a very different policy objective, which would not be consistent with the requirements for businesses in other contexts. As I set out earlier, however, we will continue to work with the sector to support its move towards embedding sustainability.
In conclusion, the Government recognise—of course we do—the important and vital issue of climate change and biodiversity, and we continue to work towards our target of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The reforms set out in our Skills for Jobs White Paper and supported by this Bill will, I believe, help towards achieving that agenda. I hope I have answered many of the questions posed by noble Lords and that they are reassured. I therefore hope the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, will feel comfortable withdrawing her amendment, and that other noble Lords will not feel the need to call theirs when we reach them in the list.
My Lords, I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, to conclude the discussion of Amendment 4.
My Lords, I thank everyone who has taken part in this very long and extremely important debate. I will carefully look at what the Minister said about this being covered in other ways and not needed in the Bill, but I think the passion and desire, along with the understanding in the House of the need for systems thinking, is clear. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment now, but this is certainly something we will come back to.
Amendment 4 (to Amendment 3) withdrawn.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I am glad we gave the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, the opportunity to have her fix of controversialism for the day—although I was rather surprised to hear what I innocently thought was a reasonable set of probing amendments, on an issue of globally recognised seriousness and urgency, described as some sort of Stalinist implementation of a political hobbyhorse.
However, be that as it may, I am also extremely grateful to the Minister for her comprehensive response. I am glad to know that we have, within the department with responsibility for COP 26, a Minister who is taking this Bill through the House. I have absolutely no doubt about her seriousness and good faith in wanting to ensure that the issues which so many people from so many sides of the House have raised today are taken seriously; that we equip our economy to respond to the direction of travel in future; and that our young people, and those whose working lives are changed, have the ability to go forward in other new jobs in the future.
I suspect the Minister will not be surprised if I say I am not totally satisfied with the argument that we do not need anything in the Bill. I am slightly emboldened by my experience so far on this issue—in fact, I feel like a cracked record in taking this forward. The noble Lord, Lord Oates, spoke about the work we did on a cross-party basis on the Financial Services Bill, where we had exactly the same sorts of debate with the Government reassuring us of their good faith and their ability to do things external to the Bill. Eventually, through discussion, we managed to find a way forward to put something into the Bill. We did the same thing on the Pension Schemes Bill, where we had exactly the same arguments that it was not necessary to do this. I am delighted to say that now, if I ever I go to a meeting or listen to anything about pensions, I hear Ministers proudly proclaiming how, in the year of COP 26, we are the first country in the world to include climate considerations and net-zero in legislation on pensions.
I am encouraged that we may be able to take this further. I hope that we can do so on a consensual basis and that, perhaps, between Committee and Report, we will be able to have discussions with the Minister about whether that is possible. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
My Lords, we now move to the group beginning with Amendment 5. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.
5: Clause 1, page 1, line 14, leave out subsections (3) and (4) and insert—
“(3) The employer representative body and relevant providers in a specified area must co-operate to develop a skills improvement plan for submission to the Secretary of State for approval and publication.(4) The employer representative body and relevant providers in a specified area must co-operate to—(a) keep the plan under review, and(b) where appropriate, develop a replacement plan for submission to the Secretary of State for approval and publication.(4A) The relevant provider must have regard to the plan so far as it is relevant to any decision that the relevant provider is making in relation to the provision of post-16 technical education or training that may be relevant to the skills, capabilities or expertise that are, or may in the future be, required in that area.(4B) In developing a new or replacement plan, the employer representative body and relevant providers must consult with such persons as they consider appropriate in the specified area, including—(a) local authorities,(b) mayoral combined authorities,(c) trade unions, and(d) students’ unions.”Member’s explanatory statement
The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that establishment of the LSIPs involves colleges as joint partners and involves the input of the wider community.
My Lords, it is important for the development of these local skills improvement plans that the partners involved are working together. The notion of divorcing, if you like, the employers from those providing the education seems to me to be wrong. The two key players to make a success of this are obviously the employers, who know their needs and can identify the skills that are short, and the colleges that provide the training and education. I do not like the notion that we should separate those two or that, as the Minister’s letter said, we might consider what they say. My Amendment 5 seeks to understand whether the colleges will be joint partners in this venture and make that point.
I say that for other reasons as well, not just in terms of developing the local skills improvement plans but because it helps the colleges themselves. It helps them to work with the employers in their locality at a really close level. It will improve the ethos and standing of colleges in the community, making employers realise what colleges are about and what happens in them: they will be properly engaged with them on a regular basis, not think of them as “some sort of building over there”. That dialogue and, dare I say it, teamwork will bring about genuine and effective plans. This is not an attempt to create more bureaucracy or paperwork; it is about saying that—I reiterate—these two key players must be locked together to make this happen.
My other amendment in this group, Amendment 38, is again about
“effective partnership working between employer representative bodies and local authorities and Mayoral Combined Authorities”.
We now have nine different mayoral authorities in England, and these nine city regions account for 41% of the country’s population and 43% of our economic output. The notion that they are sort of over there and may just be consulted seems wrong; they should be clearly involved in not just the final decisions but the day-to-day decision-making on these plans.
They already have emerging powers in relation to adult education and funding for FE, skills training and learners above the age of 19, so they are already important players in this area of work. In fact, as I said earlier, Liverpool was given a £41.1 million grant of local growth money to support skills and capital investment, and is currently working on a budget of £18 million for this year to make it available. I notice that other noble Lords also have amendments in this group. In particular the noble Lord, Lord Watson, is equally calling for working bodies to work closely together on this.
At the beginning of my contribution, I used the term “teamwork”. We only have to see how this has produced the successful run so far of the England team, which is not about separating a manager from players, and whatever else, but working together as a team. I hope that this amendment will be considered and that the Minister will ensure that there are not just considered but effective working arrangements.
My Lords, I must inform the Committee that if Amendment 5 is agreed to, I will not be able to call Amendment 6 by reason of pre-emption.
My Lords, I speak to Amendment 35 under my name. The amendment is designed to have a body that will be representative of employers in a specified area. The Secretary of State must consult local education, business and enterprise groups, with the aim of ensuring that local employers are represented on the body. So it is a wide-ranging, all-inclusive probing amendment to ensure that there is a range of employers of different sizes, as well as local education groups. In that respect, I support Amendment 5 from the noble Lord, Lord Storey, which includes educational organisations. They should all be represented on employer representative bodies, which will be tasked with pulling together the local skills improvement plans. There are a number of amendments, already tabled, highlighting the need to expand the types of groups feeding into these plans to ensure that they truly represent the local situation and will be able to address any local skills challenges that there might be.
The concern that I believe all of these amendments share is that the Bill, as it stands, potentially gives too much power to a small group of employers in a local area that are not necessarily representative of the wider business community. The Bill currently also risks limiting the choices of young people as well as adults who want or need to retrain in terms of courses and training opportunities. There may be skills that we need nationally—to achieve, for instance, net-zero—which will not currently be required in the particular locality. As a result, no training opportunities may be available for young people who are keen to move into such careers.
I believe that the Bill should enable a truly collaborative approach to local skills planning, with a range of stakeholders to co-create local skills improvement plans. Taking that approach and making sure that the local policy ambitions link up with the national strategies and vice versa might be the right approach and put us in a good position to ensure that we have the workforce, the scientists and the engineers of the future to make the UK an economic success. With 6 million SMEs, some of them quite small and with very niche skills requirements, it might be appropriate that even their voices are heard.
My Lords, I very much support the comments just made by the noble Lords, Lord Storey and Lord Patel, and the thrust of the argument. It is right that we get as much knowledge and experience and skills before making any of these decisions. I suggest to the Minister that this is going to be a recurring theme throughout our consideration of the Bill: what is the nature of the partnership which she says is at the core of the proposed legislation before us?
There are two issues. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, just used a phrase about people knowing where the power lies. That is part of the problem. In words it looks as though the employers, the people leading the partnership, have got to, by law, consult with people. The Minister may sense that there is not absolute confidence in noble Lords who have spoken today that that will happen to the degree necessary. I share that concern. Once you say so many times that it is employer-led, that it is those people who matter, and that they will be making the decisions, you have created a very unbalanced relationship between the employers and the people they are meant to consult. So I would be looking for something in the Bill, whether it is these amendments or others, to boost the standing and the contribution of the other partners.
I have not heard anybody say that the other partners—employers, education institutions, students, trade unions—are not important and have not got a role to play. But what is missing from the Bill, given our previous experience of such legislation, is any assurance that they will be listened to and will have the ability to influence what is going on, and some powers to put a brake on something if they do not like it. If they are just going to be written to, asked for their view and then ignored, it will not work, and the Bill could allow for that. That is my worry with that part of the Bill. The Bill as written could allow for that.
The point I really want to make is something that I have changed my mind on this afternoon, and it is the aspect of these amendments that refers to the mayoral combined authorities. I think there is an uneasy and unhealthy relationship between all three major parties—perhaps not the Liberals, in fairness—that have formed a Government in the last couple of decades, and local authorities. I think that over recent years local authorities have much improved: they are more accountable, their progress is more measurable and they have learned some important lessons. But the organisation I want to speak most about is the mayoral combined authority. All major political parties have passed legislation bringing into being more mayoral combined authorities, so all politicians from all parties believe that they are things for the good. The worst thing you can do to those organisations is not give them the power to actually make decisions at local level, because what you then do to the citizens of those areas is say, “These are the people with the power”, but you deny them the power, they cannot deliver the goods and the whole accountability mechanism falls asunder.
I want my main point to be about the mayoral combined authorities, because I have come to think, this afternoon, that they should be leading the partnership, not the employers. I base that on something the Minister said in winding up the debate on the first group of amendments today. She made a powerful case for employers being the ones who know what competence and skills are needed for a specific job. If it is a crane driver, which was the example she gave, I absolutely agree that the people who will need to know what a level 3 crane driver needs are the employers—but that is such a small part of the skill set needed to draw up a local strategic plan, and I am not sure that their expertise hits on the other things as well.
So I agree with the Minister that it is very important that, in terms of the competence of a qualification—the skill that is needed to do the job; the way it is assessed; what it means; how it is described; and making sure standards are high—I take my hat off and I put the employers at the front. However, if we are talking about the overall economic strategy of a region, about being accountable to the people who live there, about having a meaningful role to play in a wide range of activities and responsibilities across a regional area, it is not the employers who have got it; it is the local authorities, where they are the senior civic body, and the mayoral combined authorities, where they are.
I think that part of the success of a lot of policies, not just on skills, will be how successful we are in bolstering civic organisations over the years to come. If the Government are serious about devolving power and saying to local people, “You’ve got a say and decisions will be made near where you live”, there is a real job to be done in bolstering local civic organisations, and this is a glorious chance to do that. However, if we set up a bit of legislation that says, “It’s about local skills and a local plan, and it’s got to do with your locality”, and then you say “But the people we’re going to put in charge could be part of a national or an international employment change and not the people you’ve elected”, I do not know what kind of message that gives.
It is not that I am opposed that any of these people having a say but, having listened to the debates this afternoon, I am not confident that we have, first, the power relationship right, and I am now not confident that we have the lead provider right, either, and these amendments give us the opportunity to explore that.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who is next on the list, has withdrawn from the debate. Sadly, I am not able to call the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, because she was not here for the speech moving the amendment. The noble Lords, Lord Liddle and Lord Adonis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, have also withdrawn from the debate, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Addington.
My Lords, this is a little sooner than I expected. I put my name down to speak on this because, as the Government have said, this is a framework Bill. Governments like framework Bills because they give them a chance to develop and change as they are going along, with a little bit of freedom and a hint of Henry VII and a half. It is there and they like that. The price they pay is the fact that we want to know exactly what they are aiming at initially.
When this amendment was tabled and it was said which groups were going to be talked to, I saw that we already had employers down there. There is the danger of a dominant employer in here—a dominant employer who may not be the most foreseeing employer. Surely they should be talking to other people as well. Those with local power—that is, the mayoral authorities and local government—are surely dead certs to be involved in that conversation. These are people with budgets which will affect the local marketplace. We have already had a discussion about the green agenda, how that is implemented and the certain skills that are required there. These will be people who will be talking to you as you go through.
The amendments also mention students’ unions and trade unions. Why not? But I do not think that is the really important bit; that is the idea of what the influence will be, and which group will be having the conversation about what you should be doing and what your plan for training is. If we can get an answer to that from the Minister, at least on what the thinking is, we will all be slightly better informed and able to hone our arguments for the next stage of the Bill.
If we do not, we will be going round in a circle here. We will have to impose something on the Government to get them to come back and give us an answer. If the Government can give us an idea of what they actually require on this occasion, life becomes that little bit more straightforward. I hope that when the Minister comes to answer this, she will be able to provide at least the basis of the Government’s thinking about what goes on, because employers are great, but they occasionally get it wrong. I would just point out that many firms that were there 20 years ago are not here today. Surely that means that their boards—however well intentioned—got something wrong.
My Lords, I am pleased to speak to this group of amendments, particularly Amendments 13 and 14. I commend the contribution of my noble friend Lady Morris of Yardley. I declare my interests in the register, especially my role as chair of council at the University of Salford.
While I fully support the principle of employers playing a more active role in driving certain aspects of the skills system, as well as the more specialist role for further education colleges in delivering high-level technical skills, this should be taking place within the context of a holistic and objective overview of the whole education, skills and employment support system, to guard against introducing further complexity and fragmentation. One of the best ways to achieve this is to have a formal role for the mayoral combined authorities, where they exist, in the development of local skills improvement plans, reflecting MCAs’ unique position in this area of policy.
As drafted, there is no provision or requirement in the Bill for the Secretary of State or the designated established employer representative bodies to engage with mayoral combined authorities, local authorities or other key stakeholders such as universities in relation to—among other things—the designation or removal of designation of an appropriate ERB to lead activities, the geographical footprint of the local skills improvement plan, and the context and strategic priorities of the area. This omission overlooks the vital roles that MCAs and local authorities play in skills and economic regeneration, as well as MCAs’ devolved functions across adult education and, in the case of Greater Manchester, significant elements of employment support.
Further, the DfE has indicated that while an MCA’s agreement to the proposed local skills improvement plan would assist the Secretary of State’s approval, it is not a prerequisite, so proposals that fail to secure the support of mayoral combined authorities might still receive government approval. Therefore—I agree with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and am grateful for its extensive briefing on this matter—the Bill should make provision for consultation by the Secretary of State and the consent of MCAs in the designation of employer representative bodies and the approval of local skills improvement plans. Without such a provision, there could be a number of potential issues and risks to their success—and success is what we all want.
First, the Bill focuses primarily on higher-level skills and technical specialisms, which I agree have been neglected in policy and funding terms for far too long. However, there is a vital talent pipeline, starting with community-based engagement and entry-level essential skills, that is barely recognised in the Bill. It is unclear to me how this vital progressive pathway will be protected in the face of employer-led plans that will have a legal status not afforded to strategies for other aspects of the system. This could undermine existing partnerships and collaborative approaches to the local labour market.
Secondly, it is unclear how ERBs will be accountable in relation to strategic oversight, long-term vision and resource and capacity issues to ensure co-ordinated and impactful delivery in partnership with all relevant stakeholders. In particular, checks and balances will be required where designated ERBs are membership organisations and/or where they hold contracts as providers in order to ensure that local skills improvement plans are truly reflective of employers’ needs and interests across a locality, rather than solely for those ERB members.
Thirdly, the Government have not specified what constitutes a local area in terms of the geographical footprint of the new local skills improvement plans. Instead, employer representative bodies are being invited to define their own localities for the purpose of skills planning. So, for example, despite Greater Manchester being a well-recognised functional economic area with a long history of collaboration, there is no guarantee that the new local skills improvement plan proposals will follow existing geopolitical and functional economic footprints. This could undermine the alignment of skills and employment support in places such as Greater Manchester, which has used complementary devolved functions, pilots and other resources to support the creation of jobs and the skills to match them.
To address these issues and others, I believe the role of the mayoral combined authority and the local authorities should be properly recognised in the Bill to ensure the successful development of the local skills improvement plan and that all stakeholders feel they are part of the success going forward. I am pleased to support these amendments.
The noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, has withdrawn from the debate, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe.
My Lords, I was very sorry not to be able to speak at Second Reading, but I was present for some of the debate and was struck by the contributions made by my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach, on the need for localism and the example of horticulture, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley—who is in her place—on local skills improvement plans, which are the subject of this group. I also agree with my noble friend Lord Baker that the strength of the school system is incredibly important and that we need parity of esteem for technical and vocational education in our schools. Indeed, whenever I talk at a school, I always talk about apprenticeships.
I refer to my entry in the register of interests. I serve in a non-executive role in various sectors, which gives me a feel for the training needs of young people and for lifelong learning. Skills and their continuous improvement are essential to successful business and, as I have been saying since I joined this House in 2013, a strong system of vocational learning and training is as important to a productive economy as university education. I have often mentioned the experience of Germany, Austria and Switzerland in this respect, so I was glad to see the references to the German one-stop shop chambers of commerce system in January’s White Paper. I have a great deal of sympathy with the thrust of the thinking of the Secretary of State, Gavin Williamson, on this.
I like the way in which this Bill puts employers at the heart of the process—including big public sector employers such as hospitals, which often dominate in our towns, such as my home city of Salisbury. However, which bodies does my noble friend the Minister see the new skills improvement plans being modelled on? Is it the skills plans of the regional majors or of local enterprise partnerships, or are they modelled on something quite different? Can she share a model skills plan or two with us? As a large former employer in my time at Tesco, and as chair of various SMEs, I am keen to understand and assess how these might work in practice. The impact assessment suggests that the cost is not great—£25 million in total—especially relative to the potential benefits of a good new system. However, I would like to understand better how things would actually work, perhaps in a meeting rather than on the Floor of the House.
I also want to know how the national bodies identifying skills gaps will link in. There are gaps in digital, for example, which is needed in nearly every sector. There are gaps in AI, engineering, climate-friendly construction and health. As we have heard, there are also gaps among chefs, in agriculture and, of course, in the critical areas of management, leadership and teamwork. I think my noble friend the Minister mentioned that the principal vehicle will be the Skills and Productivity Board. But how will that and other national bodies or manifestos—and, indeed, regional mayors—be involved? How will they influence and link to those responsible for framing and revising our local skills improvement plans?
I should add that I care a great deal about training for SMEs—whether in manufacturing, services or the creative sectors—where localism is absolutely key to the provision. I also know that productivity and growth need a revolution in skills in larger companies that may operate across the UK and outside local areas, as well as in the public sector.
These improvement plans are a new statutory requirement, and we must beware that they do not become like local plans in planning. These are expensive and complex both to create and understand. Moreover, they are out of date or non-existent in some areas. We heard today in the Built Environment Committee that this represents 30% of local plans.
I was glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Storey, about his experiences in Liverpool since, for a major part of my career, I worked alongside Terry Leahy, a well-known Liverpudlian. We were able to employ and train—and even teach reading and mathematical skills to—many young people who had missed out in the school system. Much of that, I have to say, was done in partnership with the trade union USDAW.
However, I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Storey, that there should be statutory consultees. This is because, first, someone has to be in charge, and the successful German experience suggests that this should be the employers; and, secondly, adding statutory consultation would add costs and distract local authorities, trade unions and student unions. You could give the plans to the regional mayors to do instead, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, was suggesting—but that would be a different Bill, and you would be moving away from localism. So this is all quite tricky. A statutory involvement could also bring in the lawyers if processes were not followed, as you see in the planning system. So it seems much better to keep the system simple and in the hands of employers, and to leave it to their discretion as to how stakeholders—including the trade unions, which have a very good record in promoting skills in my experience—are consulted.
For similar reasons, I would be against most of the other amendments in this group, although they are all useful as probing amendments, especially Amendment 27 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Patel.
I hope that the Minister will not, in her reply, dismiss this amendment out of hand and say it is totally unacceptable, because I suspect that, as the procedures develop for local skills plans, extra help will be needed. I speak as someone who, for the last 12 years, has had to involve local companies actively in the running of the schools that I have been promoting: university technical colleges. I can assure noble Lords it takes a long time to persuade companies to do this. It takes many meetings, and many companies look on it as a burden and an expense. So there is not a huge number of companies lining up to become members of the employment body.
I hope the Minister is listening to what I am saying and not reading her notes, because I think she would benefit from what I am saying. I suspect that the Government are going to have to change their policy in this respect. She expects the chambers of commerce, where the chambers of commerce exist, to be the employer representative bodies. Could I take her through the complexity of that? First, chambers of commerce will look on it as an extra expense, which it is going to be. They have to balance the interests of their own members as to whether they should listen to the big or small companies, the ones which are expanding or declining, and the ones which are loquacious or silent. The proposals they may make may offend several of their members. So it will involve a series of meetings, and probably visits to the companies. That is my experience from the last 12 years.
I ask the Minister: where there is not a chamber of commerce, who is going to institute the examination to determine the numbers on the local employer representative body? Who is going to do it? Have the Government yet thought this through? Who is physically going to do it? Who is going to then make a list of all the companies? Who is going to know about the companies? Who is going to visit the companies and persuade them to take an interest? Because it is a continuing interest: they will have to appoint somebody to serve on the body, and that is an expense to the company. Are the companies going to get a benefit from this? I have gone through this for the last 12 years, and I do not think the Government have an answer to that.
The Government may find that they need the assistance of local authorities, which know a lot of companies. They may also need the assistance of the LEPs. The LEPs do not appear in this Bill at all, but the LEPs have a statutory duty for vocational skills, and some of them have policies on vocational skills, and they know about the companies in their area, and they know about the companies in several towns in their area. In the Select Committee of which the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and I are members, we took evidence from the North East LEP. A lady called Michelle Rainbow turned up, and she obviously had taken a big interest in education. The North East LEP had a big scheme involving 70 primary schools. The LEPs might have all sorts of schemes the Government do not really follow, or that the Department for Education does not follow or know about, and in secondary education as well. They have this knowledge. Therefore, I hope that the Minister appreciates that there will have to be assistances in the whole procedure of establishing local skills plans. Certainly, the Government should listen to the LEPs in addition to the local mayors and the mayoral authorities as well.
One other voice that has not been heard in any clause in the Bill is that of the unemployed. I suspect that no one who has drafted the Bill in the Department for Education has talked to groups of unemployed young people and nor have many Ministers. The committee that the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and I sit on has now held meetings in Bolton and Nottingham, and this morning in London, talking to unemployed young people. The group that I talked to were six black young men and women, all of whom were unemployed, or trying to get employment, and their voices were remarkable. They answer a lot of the questions raised by this Bill. We asked them all why they were unemployed, and they explained that they had never been given information about employability at their ordinary schools. These are not people who have been to FE colleges and things of that sort. They left their ordinary secondary schools with no understanding of how industry and commerce work and with no employability skills because they had just been doing academic subjects. They were very passionate this morning. They said, “We left with no employer skills, no data skills.” I asked whether any of them had learned about computing in their schools, and they said, “No, we didn’t have lessons on computing at all.” Many of them left with no communication skills, but they certainly developed them in applying for jobs. They have no experience of working in teams, but they are often asked by employers whether they have worked in teams.
These voices should be listened to. If you are replanning the whole basis of technical education in our country, then listen to people like this. They have a voice, they are concerned, and they are the victims of our failure to educate them adequately to get jobs. I hope that the department will perhaps take some knowledge of that. I urge the Government not to dismiss this amendment too lightly because what it proposes is likely to be needed.
My Lords, today’s debate has not progressed very fast in terms of groups, but we have covered a great deal of ground and, through the debate, have almost developed a shadow Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, suggested. I agree with much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, said, as I often do. It is clear that the structure of the Bill needs to be rethought. One crucial area is the place for local authorities and regional and city mayors in making skills plans, which a large number of amendments in this group address.
Although the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, talked about the economic strategy of the region, I would rather talk about a transformation strategy for a region. Levelling up is about much more than just the economy. It is not even about just the environment and the economy; it is about the well-being and social capital of the region contributing to every aspect of life, the community and family. You might even call it a public health approach to skills and post-16 education. If we are thinking about public health on that broad scale, this is something that clearly needs to be democratically decided. Elected people should be leading the development of skills development plans, or perhaps, as an alternative suggestion, we might want to think about drawing up a people’s assembly approach, something to put on the table at least, and something that the Minister might like to talk about to her colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, because I know that she has had very good experience with such direct, deliberative democracy.
The term “employer representative body” reminds me, very uncomfortably, of local enterprise partnerships. Some noble Lords have spoken of them with great approval and, in some places, undoubtedly some good work has been done, but they are not in any way representative of the people or the community. They are, by definition, the status quo in an area. They are invested in the way things are, in our current, unequal, poverty-stricken, planet-destroying system.
During this debate, I was thinking about joining the south-west regional Green Party in a detailed consideration of the Heart of the South-West LEP’s Strategic Economic Plan 2014-2030. We went through that plan page by page and found a focus on nuclear power and on aerospace in advanced manufacturing, and nothing about the crucial place of food production, small-scale farmers and growers and artisan food production, things that are so important to the region but had not found their way into the LEP plan.
Local authorities and elected mayors are in many respects problematic. The former are elected through the undemocratic first past the post system in England, the latter by putting a single person into an essentially impossible position to represent a whole region. However, they are what we have, and they have hugely more knowledge and representativeness than a handful of large local employers which will surely dominate employer-representative bodies or far-off Westminster. On which point, in the interests of balance, I must applaud what we have been hearing from the Minister about the importance of local decision-making, but if we are going to have that local decision-making it must be democratic.
My Lords, I was unable to speak at Second Reading, so I must now declare my interests as set out in the register, particularly that I am chair of the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership, which provides me with a particular and, I believe, helpful perspective on the Bill. Having heard the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, while I recognise some aspects of what she said, it bears no relationship to the work that is going on in Cumbria.
My remarks around this group of amendments are probing, so I trust that the Minister can straightforwardly and candidly clarify my concerns. While my comments are mine alone, they echo many of my LEP and mayoral combined authorities colleagues’ concerns. We welcome the key principles underlying the ambitions of the Bill and the desire to bring business closer to the process of curriculum development and delivery. Like the noble Lord, Lord Baker, I suggest that this is exactly what LEPs have been doing for some considerable time: ensuring that the needs of the economy and businesses inform the skills system locally, particularly to ensure that these real needs can be met in a useful and constructive way. LEPs command respect, and I know that they are impartial, so businesses and providers equally trust them. To lose this would be a backward step.
The draft legislation which we are considering proposes that employer representative bodies are reasonably representative of employers operating within the specified area, and I do not think that anybody could reasonably object to that, but it excludes local enterprise partnerships. Therefore, I seriously question and thereby challenge the exclusion of LEPs. How can LEPs not be employer-representative bodies, given that each LEP is created specifically to be the voice of business and consistently to represent, not least at the Government’s specific request, hundreds of businesses in our local areas, including on skills-related issues?
Importantly, LEPs do this for all businesses across all sectors and geographies, not just for those who are part of a membership organisation. This is important. We do not do this just for particular constituencies. We have no further specific axe to grind in the matter. Unfortunately, the White Paper and the Bill appear to ignore this excellent long-term business engagement which has been in place for some considerable time. From my perspective, the absence of any role for LEPs in this legislation strikes me as lacking any rationale based on the evidence and the scale of the work that has been done in the past. It is not a matter of reinventing the wheel, but of the Government disinventing the wheel.
The skills advisory panels, funded by the DfE and led by LEPs, have been assured that there is a deep, evidence-based understanding of the needs of their local economy, their sectors, their businesses and, importantly, the skills required in their locality. In my own LEP in Cumbria, we have a comprehensive governance structure, specifically endorsed by the Government, that ensures that the skills system is demand-led, with our business-led sector panels articulating what is needed and our people, employment and skills strategy group bringing together the skills systems to respond to this. That is the skills advisory panel in action. It matches the claims of that well-known brand of beer that reaches the parts others cannot get to.
The current lack of clarity on the future role of the skills advisory panels is accelerating uncertainty, making it extremely difficult to make any medium- to long-term plans. This has left many members—a number of them volunteers—questioning whether there is any future role for them. We therefore risk losing both momentum and expertise at precisely the point when it is most needed, as the nation recovers from Covid-19 and grapples with the now known challenges posed by moving away from the EU.
As we debate the Bill, LEPs are working in their localities to address the immediate needs of businesses as they come out of the pandemic and respond to the significant changes in the labour market. For example, in Cumbria, we are seeing chronic labour shortages—as the noble Lord, Lord Storey, pointed out in an earlier group—which are not merely inhibiting business but actually stalling recovery; we are working directly with our businesses to help address these.
Simultaneously, we continue to make sure that we focus on the medium- and longer-term skills needs to ensure that we have a pipeline for the future, and we are focusing on supporting the priorities identified by the business community itself. It is in this context that the focus on the pipeline is in the forefront of our thinking and where our work with the careers and advisory company comes in to ensure that all our young people understand the economy and the career opportunities available. We are committed to this in Cumbria, and we and other LEPs provide matched funding to underpin the role of enterprise co-ordinators.
In conclusion, I ask the Minister to respond directly to my points and to a number of other powerful points raised in this group to clarify how the Government see matters in these regards so that, based on her remarks, the House will be able to know whether and, if so, in what way this matter will need further consideration on Report.
My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, whose experience of chairing a LEP is extremely valuable; I believe that he has a lot to offer to the consideration of the Bill.
I will comment briefly on Amendments 13, 16, 32 and 35 in this grouping. Much has been said already during this debate that overlaps with other amendments, so I want to reinforce some of the messages that have already been made very strongly by other Peers. To reinforce what I said at Second Reading, I still think that there is a risk of confusion between the various bodies involved and a potential overlap between the agencies. Clarity is essential, and I hope that the Minister will take that on board.
I have two overriding concerns, one of which has been stressed a number of times already this afternoon; that is, in devolving responsibility at a local level to local groups, there is consistency with the national skills strategy and regional priorities. It seems obvious that there should be a very strong conduit between the regional bodies, the LEPs, the combined authorities and the mayoral authorities. I hope that the Minister has recognised the strength of feeling there is on this now. As reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, to leave out the mayoral authorities and not work with the LEPs, with the experience they have and the networks they have established—to throw that away and not build on it—would seem foolish. So I hope that the Government will take those messages into account.
I am also slightly concerned that if this does not happen, we will see a patchwork of disconnected skills groups paddling their own independent canoes. Co-ordination is vital for skills providers to develop appropriate courses to meet regional and local demand. The Minister was reassuring on that point earlier this afternoon, so I hope that is the case.
The critical balance is to achieve local ownership within a framework of national and regional priorities. I restate that regional involvement is essential. My second concern with this grouping is highlighted in Amendment 32, and in Amendment 35 from the noble Lord, Lord Patel. Too often, SMEs and, in particular, rural interests are ignored in designing skills strategies. The SME sector has a weak voice.
Large industrial employers have the resources to engage in consultation exercises. They can devote personnel to sit on boards and, in doing so, influence outcomes. It is a good thing that they do. However, SMEs have difficulty in devoting the time to engage in what, to them, seems like numerous consultations and time-consuming exercises. They do not have the time to sit on boards but their voice is essential. Too often, one has a willing volunteer within an area or region; they get overloaded and do not necessarily represent the SME sector. I am really concerned about the influence of the SME sector in helping to design policies that will work for all.
I conclude by highlighting the importance of the rural sector, which has been mentioned once or twice. There is clear evidence that economic success in rural areas has been hampered, held back and constrained by skills gaps. This will be perpetuated if it is not addressed. The gap between rural and urban will continue to grow. Skills provision is critical, if levelling up is to be achieved even in a modest way, to reduce this rural/urban divide. Too often, government policy has been focused on cities. The large industrial areas are the ones that influence skills strategies. The SME sector, and particularly the rural sector, are the ones that get neglected. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, the Government are going to have to work really hard to engage with this sector and make sure that the local skills bodies embrace this challenge, and do not once more neglect the rural sector.
My Lords, my name was initially omitted from the list for this group. My reaction when I found I had been reinserted at number 17 was, “be careful what you wish for”. I am not sure I have a lot to add to what has been said. I very much welcome the amendments that seek to ensure that the voices of independent training providers, SMEs and the self-employed are heard in the LSIP process. I particularly await the Minister’s response to Amendment 40 from the noble Lord, Lord Watson, which would require the Secretary of State to report annually
“on the performance of employer representative bodies.”
This seems to raise important questions of the accountability of ERBs, and indeed LSIPs. I hope the Minister might tell us what sort of reporting will be required for LSIPs and how their performance will be measured—against what criteria and by whom. What will happen if they are seen not to deliver the results expected? Much more fundamentally, I strongly echo the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the noble Lord, Lord Baker, about how the system will actually work in the real world, as described by both those noble Lords.
I also notice that the Bill includes quite a few duties and requirements for colleges and other education providers to meet—there are all sorts of things that they have to do—but these seem somewhat less prominent when it comes to LSIPs and employer representative bodies. I also welcome the paragraph (b) proposed in the Amendment 36 of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, which goes a little way to redressing the balance by enabling colleges and other providers to challenge LSIPs if they are not happy with them.
My Lords, I shall aim to be brief, which may be welcome at this stage of the evening. I have added my name to Amendment 31, of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, which leaves out “reasonably”—why not just have “representative”, which is a term that is vague enough not to need qualification? Legislation should be clear. This “reasonably” puts doubts into the worth of the employer representative body. However, I am slightly concerned to see that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, has inserted “reasonably” in Amendment 17, which seems to be slightly contradictory.
This group has thrown up many other issues. There are concerns about the creeping potential for the Secretary of State to make overall interventions in matters that were set up to operate with some independence from government—Amendment 36 addresses this. There is obviously a tension between local and national, and we have seen this in a number of recent Bills, where the Government are intent on taking powers that would be much better used by those closer to the issues.
After his impassioned tirade, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has obviously exhausted himself and left, but there are many amendments in this group to do with the importance of local authorities and mayoral combined authorities. They must not be constantly subjected to national government oversight. Further education providers are also expert in these fields and must not be overlooked. As my noble friend Lord Storey set out, much is expected of our further education colleges, but they are overlooked far too often. They are well used to collaborating with other local bodies, and their knowledge and contacts must not be ignored. They are also very good at teamwork.
The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Watson, also makes clear the importance of SMEs, the self-employed and public and voluntary sector employers—so consultation must be as wide-ranging as possible, with national government taking a back seat, if it takes a seat at all. Colleges should have the power to challenge the local skills improvement plans where, from their local experience, they can see that all is not well.
I support the misgivings of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, about employers. I remember well that, when we were developing national vocational qualifications—which were employer led—at City & Guilds, it was incredibly difficult to get the employers to decide which skills they actually wanted. In the end, it was left to the colleges and the awarding bodies, which barely get a mention in the Bill, to get these employer-led qualifications into action. This is a great lack—the Government ignore the colleges and awarding bodies when they are discussing anything to do with skills, but they are the people who really make it happen.
These amendments call for monitoring and reporting. The crucial element is to give authority to those who are closer to the issues and have the expertise to make judgments. The Government must learn to take a back seat where they do not know best. My noble friend Lord Storey mentioned the effect on Liverpool when it was allowed to thrive when local people took control.
In Amendment 28, the noble Lord, Lord Watson, mentions plans about “trailblazer areas”. I do not think we know very much about these—perhaps the Minister can enlighten us about them. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, spoke about the LEPs and their work, which has once again been overlooked.
So I trust that the Minister will see that it is in the local and national interest for national government not to intervene at every step and to learn from people who do know what is going on. I hope that she will be able to accept some, if not all, of the amendments in this group.
My Lords, despite several noble Lords listed to speak falling by the wayside, I commend those noble Lords who have stuck it out for their contributions to the debate on this group, and I appreciate their support for the amendments standing in my name.
As many noble Lords have already said today, this is a pretty thin Bill. In her response to group 1, the Minister called it a “framework”, and one might say that that is actually generous. However, the cornerstone is the development of local skills improvement plans, with the role of employer representative bodies being crucial in that process. The manner in which the Bill proposes that ERBs—I will use that shortened terminology—should be designated is flawed, to the extent that it would, we believe, make the Bill unworkable.
There needs to be a much more clearly defined and significant role for local and mayoral combined authorities, as well as colleges and other training providers. The skills needed in Greater Manchester will be significantly different from the skills needed in Cornwall or Cumbria. There has to be an appreciation of differing labour markets, and the way they have developed and are likely to develop. Surely that is best understood at local and regional levels. It is impossible to prescribe the skills needs for the whole of England from an office in the DfE HQ in Great Smith Street, yet that is what the centralising measures in the Bill propose. In relation to the skills agenda, as my colleague in another place, the shadow apprenticeships Minister, Toby Perkins MP, memorably said,
“I have never heard anybody suggest that a more hands-on role for Gavin Williamson was needed”.
That centralisation is very much part of a pattern that we have seen from this Government. They seem to be rowing back significantly on English devolution, and last week the Welsh First Minister’s frustration was plain to see as he accused the Prime Minister of what he called “aggressively ignoring” Wales’s Parliament.
In this Bill, local authorities, including mayoral combined authorities, are to be marginalised, ignoring the fact that they have been democratically elected. Although we fully support the principle of employers playing a more active role in driving certain aspects of the skills system, as well as a more specialised role for FE colleges in delivering higher-level technical skills, that must take place within the context of a holistic and objective overview of the whole education, skills and employment support system, to guard against introducing further complexity. That is what our Amendment 13 seeks to achieve.
We believe that the best way to bring that about is to have a formal role for mayoral combined authorities, where they exist, and other local authorities, in the development of LSIPs, reflecting their unique understanding of their communities and, as I said earlier, their job markets. As my noble friend Lord Bradley said, there is currently no provision or requirement within the Bill for the Secretary of State or the designated ERB to engage with mayoral combined authorities or local authorities—or, indeed, with any other stakeholder —in relation to the designation of an appropriate ERB to lead this activity. The same applies to the boundaries of the LSIPs.
On the subject of mayoral combined authorities, my noble friend Lord Adonis, in a bravura performance earlier, said that the reason he had been given for excluding MCAs was that they were not employers. That might come as news to Sadiq Khan, Tracy Brabin, Andy Burnham, Andy Street and others, who must be superhuman if they do all that work on their own. They have considerable staffs at their disposal: MCAs are indeed employers. I do not have the figures to hand, but I suspect that all of them have several hundred employees. That would be like a small or medium-sized enterprise—and those, as I shall say in a few moments, should very much be part of the consideration when putting together the employer representative bodies.
We agree with the amendment in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and of my noble friend Lord Rooker, saying that ERBs must develop local skills improvement plans as joint partners with colleges and have input from the wider community. Our Amendments 14 and 16 emphasise the fact that local skills improvement plans should draw on the views of local authorities and training providers in the area. I have to ask the Minister: why would the Government not want that sort of input, if they want the best possible response to local training and employment needs? Those people should also be involved in the ERB itself. The aim is to ensure that LSIPs are more collaborative, with local further and adult education providers closely aligning with existing strategies. Why not build on the existing skills advisory approach and develop a more inclusive way of providing advice on employers’ needs?
The existing landscape includes, of course, local enterprise partnerships, which do not merit a mention in the Bill. The noble Lords, Lord Inglewood and Lord Curry, both made a strong case for LEPs to have a continued role in the delivery of the skills agenda. I asked the Minister on Second Reading what plans the Government had for LEPs, and perhaps she will enlighten us on that matter on this occasion.
Amendments 28 and 29 seek to ensure that there is appropriate consultation of MCAs and local authorities prior to the publication of the local skills improvement plans, and for those elected bodies to give their consent to the designation of ERBs. Amendment 37 seeks to ensure that, once designated, the ERB ensures effective partnership, working with providers, local authorities and mayoral combined authorities to support integration of the skills and employment system in each locality. Again, why would the Government have a problem with these sensible improvements to the operation of employer representative bodies?
As the noble Lord, Lord Storey, said, it is about teamwork. That said, I trust that he will forgive me for being somewhat less enthusiastic about his analogy with the England football team, although, for the record, I do wish them well tomorrow. Our Amendments 31 and 32 seek to gain an understanding of the Government’s intentions in Clause 2. The role of employer representative bodies will be important in shaping local systems, and there is a risk that some ERBs might represent a narrow group of employer voices, focus too much on current skills needs, or be unwilling to take advice from other sources. It is important to ensure that they represent the full breadth of employer voices, focus on future demand and, of course, have appropriate governance.
My noble friend Lady Morris said that she is not sure that the Bill has the power structure right, or the right lead provider; I very much agree with her. Another question is: what will be the role of the chambers of commerce? They are not necessarily representative bodies and vary greatly from one part of the country to another. It is an open secret that they are distinctly cool about being directly involved in the formation of the LSIPs and I understand that this is even the case for some of the largest ones, such as Greater Manchester.
Most employers and employers’ organisations do not really want to run the system; they just want a system that works. They have no more interest in running further education than in running a school or a university. They want to concentrate on their core businesses and do not have a great deal of time to spare in developing local structures or devising plans beyond their own personal needs. As my noble friend Lady Morris said, employers are primarily focused on the now. That is generally understandable, but it is important that ERBs really are representative of the area for which they will have responsibility, so I look forward to hearing from the Minister why the Government have no greater ambition than to make a reasonable attempt at making them representative.
As the eagle-eyed noble Baroness, Lady Garden, pointed out, our Amendment 17—which is not being discussed today—also inserts the word “reasonable”. In my defence, I can say only that that refers to relevant providers, whereas the point I am making here applies to the employer representative bodies. It is surely not too much to expect that the ERBs include a wider range of local employer interests, including small and medium-sized enterprises, the self-employed, and public and third-sector employers. This would ensure that a range of employers of different sizes is represented in the ERB, as the noble Lord, Lord Patel, seeks in his Amendment 35.
There is also a need to clarify the role and accountabilities of employer representative bodies in developing their LSIPs, including describing the role of the ERBs, their accountabilities and the process for responding to instances where they do not deliver this effectively. Amendment 36 seeks to ensure accountability and oversight of ERBs, about which my noble friend Lord Bradley spoke compellingly, specifically in relation to the Greater Manchester MCA. This includes preparing and publishing a conflict of interest policy, which could be important where major employers such as universities or local authorities are also providers of training, or where employer representative bodies run publicly funded training providers—as some do—which compete with colleges for apprenticeships and other contracts.
The requirement also to have regard to national strategies is important, not least in the run-up to COP 26, because in March the Government published their industrial decarbonisation strategy. What will they have to say to ERBs about, for example, the content of their local skills improvement plans with regard to chapter 6 of the decarbonisation strategy, which is entitled “Accelerating Innovation of Low Carbon Technologies”? That could be one example of a situation where colleges and other providers feel the need to challenge local skills improvement plans and put forward revisions where they feel the plans fall short.
If the aim of the Bill really is to deepen the strategic relationship with, and service to, employers, then delivering this must involve a genuine partnership of colleges and other providers empowered to stimulate and challenge articulated demand rather than acting as passive policy recipients. It is important that they have the means of doing so; if the Minister is unable to support Amendment 36, perhaps she will tell the Committee what recourse will be available to providers in such circumstances.
Lastly, our Amendment 40 calls for the Secretary of State to publish an annual report on ERBs and lay it before Parliament, a standard demand when a new body is being established. I have to say that it is also standard for the Government to resist, usually saying that such a requirement is overly bureaucratic and in any case unnecessary. However, given the major importance of the structure that the Bill seeks to establish, we believe it will be essential for Parliament to receive and debate regular reports. To deny that would be to deny the importance of the task of preparing the skills that the country will need in the years ahead.
It is essential that MCAs, local authorities, FE colleges and universities are able to be part of producing local skills improvement plans. Denying them that right would not simply undermine the effectiveness of the plans but, as I said earlier, would make those plans unworkable. Unless the Minister and her Government relent, the Bill that she has characterised as a framework runs the risk of remaining just that.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions. I am optimistic about persuading the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, once again of the merit of the employer representative bodies being in charge of the local skills improvement plans.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Baker for his challenge, which was an important one. I can confirm to him that, particularly in my role as Minister for Women, I have heard from many unemployed women. I think I am not alone in your Lordships’ House in this: through such a thing as a pandemic, many of us do not just listen to the voices of unemployed people but in fact know unemployed people who are claiming universal credit. My noble friend raises an important challenge for us always to keep in mind.
I shall deal with one or two themes before I deal with the detail of the amendment, particularly the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. It is an interesting position to be in to be putting forward legislation for the Secretary of State to designate the power for an employer representative body to produce the local skills improvement plan. Clause 1(6) outlines that an LSIP
“draws on the views of employers operating within the specified area, and any other evidence, to summarise the skills, capabilities or expertise that are, or may in the future be, required in the specified area”.
That is the language that we have seen in technical education and occupational requirements for apprenticeships. The local skills improvement plans will set out the key changes needed for post-16 technical education training, as I have emphasised, and make it more responsive to employers’ needs, but this is not a complete economic plan nor a complete local strategy. In some ways it is a compliment that noble Lords have viewed this as more expansive than it actually is, but it merely sets out what the employer needs are in relation to technical education and, as I say, puts the duty of co-operation on relevant providers so that there is a dynamic relationship on the ground.
Relationships are the theme of employers and employer engagement. It is true that in the recent changes much has been asked of employers in relation to apprenticeships, and then we introduced T-levels; we had engagement from 250 employers on T-levels, and we should not underestimate that. I have to tweak the language of the noble Lord, Lord Watson: they are not always looking to their own needs. That is why we have gone for an employer representative body rather than, say, simply asking BAE Systems to do it for the local area around Barrow. There has to be a representative function, a point that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred to. It is important that these are representative bodies of employers, not just collaborations.
My noble friend Lord Baker does down his own work. On my visit to Ron Dearing UTC, I thought I was passing a shopping centre because the employers that pay to be part of that UTC are advertised around the side of the building. I met the CEOs of the businesses involved and they were solving their skills needs by getting directly involved in the UTC.
Obviously, we have heard from many employers about productivity and about the skills gaps that we have. There is good evidence on which we can base the fact that employer representative bodies—it will not always be a chamber of commerce, but that might be one of the bodies that puts itself forward—do want to solve these skills needs, and there is significant good will in relation to their involvement.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradley, and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, raised the question of what the local area is. There is no agreed defined local government geography. I mean by that that there is no agreed defined standard across our country, and there is no single functional economic area—so we have allowed areas to define themselves. Having lived in Greater Manchester, I know that sometimes a whole area will want to define itself, but the freedom has been given. The areas for the trailblazers have not been dictated from the centre. We will publish their plans when they produce them, and they are informing the guidance. Another noble Lord asked that question. There is that freedom from the centre that says, “Tell us what your functional economic area is for the employer representative body and the local skills improvement plans”. As I outlined, most of the applications came with a letter—so we have not encountered the resistance from the mayoral combined authorities or local authorities in relation to the trailblazers that we have embarked on.
On the point about providers made by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, I would say that providers often have different perspectives, from FE colleges to higher education institutions to the ITPs. That is why we want all providers of post-16 training to be involved, but I fear, from some of the comments that noble Lords have made, that we will be back to what the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, mentioned at Second Reading: having a cast of thousands.
On Amendments 5, 13, 14, 16, 23, 28, 29, 37 and 38, the relevant providers will play an important role, working with the employer representative bodies to develop these plans. We have not taken them out of the picture; the duty is there to co-operate. To answer the point from the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, we made it clear in the Skills for Jobs White Paper that mayoral combined authorities will be engaged in the development of local skills plans where they have a presence in the area. We expect employer representative bodies to engage with and build on the good skills-related work that local authorities and mayoral combined authorities are currently doing, including skills advisory panels. We will build on that work, but ERBs will be independent of government. If I am correct in the definition of LEPs, that is not their role—but there is currently a review and we will make clear the plans for that.
I emphasise again the limit of the LSIP—hence it is complemented in the Bill by the duty under Clause 5 for providers to look at their entire provision for local needs. I do not want to underplay it completely, but it has rather been taken to a level that it will not actually have in the Bill. It is to ensure that the skills are closely aligned to local labour markets, and employers are best placed to know that. Noble Lords will be encouraged to hear that this is not an amendment on which I will say that everything will be in the guidance and should not be in the Bill. We have a point of principle here that is the DNA running through our technical education changes about employers being the body that can assess needs. They will play a leading role and there will be duties on providers to engage with them. The premium we place on the ongoing direct and dynamic engagement between providers and employers is what we are trying to set up in this legislation.
Additionally, to discharge this new role effectively, the designated employer representative will need and want to work closely with MCAs and individual local authorities. There is a question of practicality as there will be a large number of providers and stakeholders, and indeed a number of local authorities, in any given local area with different perspectives on the key priorities. Giving them all a statutory role in developing the LSIP is much less practical than having a single designated employer representative body that can engage with all the relevant providers in a way that minimises burdens and brokers a plan.
This set of amendments includes placing a new duty on the designated ERBs to co-operate with relevant providers. However, that is not necessary since a designated body cannot discharge its role, as already set out in the legislation, without the co-operation of those providers.
Looking beyond the providers and employers, I think there is broad agreement that the views and priorities of key local stakeholders should be considered in developing these plans. That is why we want employer representative bodies to engage meaningfully with key local stakeholders, and we have made this clear with the trailblazers we are running this year. However, a rigid process—as my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe mentioned—with a fixed set of local stakeholders could make it difficult to effectively plan, keep under review and keep up-to-date in an agile way within a timescale that is reasonably responsive to employers’ skills needs. Therefore, at this point we will use statutory guidance to set out the clear expectations on key stakeholders that employer representative bodies will need to engage. As I have said to noble Lords before, this will be informed by the trailblazers. If the designated employer representative body does not have regard to the guidance, the Secretary of State could decide not to approve and publish the plan and actually has a power to remove the designation.
On Amendment 31, the noble Lord, Lord Watson, challenged how representative the ERBs are. Again, they will be informed by a range of employer views. That is clear on the face of the Bill. The Secretary of State can designate a representative body only when satisfied that it is reasonably representative of employers operating within a specified area. I know there has been some interchange about reasonableness between the two Front Benches opposite, but that is obviously an objective criterion that is assessable on evidence. The Bill requires designated employer representative bodies to draw on the views of employers in the area and other evidence, so it is a very wide scope. To do this, they would need to talk to employers outside the body itself and other bodies present in the area, and we would put that in the guidance. A balanced judgment of what constitutes a “reasonably representative” employer representative body will be informed by suitable evidence, including, for instance, the extent to which characteristics of an employer representative body’s membership compares to the overall population of employers in the local area.
On the concerns of the noble Lords, Lord Watson, Lord Patel and Lord Curry, about SMEs, public sector employers and voluntary sector employers, of course MCAs are an employer, but they are not an employer representative body. They may also be a member of the chamber of commerce, like the local hospital might be. That is the distinction we have made. The term “employer” in Clause 4 is defined particularly widely as any
“person that engages, or intends to engage, an individual under … a contract of service or apprenticeship, or … a contract for services … for the purposes of a business, trade or profession”.
Therefore, it includes employers of all sizes, and public authorities and charitable institutions are also specifically mentioned. Of course, when the Secretary of State is designating the ERB, he is bound by the normal principles of public law to act rationally and fairly, and he will need to take into account a range of relevant, reliable and accurate information.
Amendment 36, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, would require LSIPs to have due regard to national and regional strategies, particularly in respect of decarbonisation. I think I have outlined a number of times to noble Lords that these will be expected to take into account various national strategies, particularly around the net-zero target, and that this will be within the guidance. Obviously, it is important to have regard to that in terms of the green workforce that we need in the future. But they should also draw on other evidence, and we expect that to include regional strategies.
To deal with the points raised by the noble Lords, Lord Curry and Lord Patel, the Skills for Jobs White Paper has already made clear that we expect the local skills improvement plans to be informed by, and in turn inform, national skills priorities as highlighted by the Skills and Productivity Board. Specific strategies and associated priorities are likely to change and evolve over time, so we believe that describing them in guidance that can be regularly updated, rather than legislation, is the best way of future-proofing the Bill.
The point about accountability that came up in the first group of amendments was raised by the noble Lord under Amendment 40. We of course agree that the ERBs need to be accountable for their leadership of local skills improvement plans, and the Bill provides a framework for that. The Secretary of State must be satisfied that an eligible body is capable of developing a local skills improvement plan in an impartial manner before they can be designated; we have not mentioned this before, but I think it is very important that that is on the face of the Bill. Then the Secretary of State must publish a notice of the designation of an employer representative body. He must name the body and the specified area for the designation, along with the effective date and any terms and conditions that the designation is subject to. On previous groups of amendments, I have said that the Secretary of State can set the terms and conditions; in relation to trailblazers, there is public money and that, of course, is always spent in accordance with appropriate transparency.
In its role, the designated employer representative body will be accountable to the Secretary of State and the department will monitor and review its performance. Importantly, Clause 3 gives the Secretary of State the power to remove the designation. If that designation is removed, the Secretary of State is under an obligation to publish that notice as well. Again, it can be subject to terms and conditions, a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare.
I hope that my remarks have reassured noble Lords that the Bill already contains a number of important safeguards to ensure that the right organisations are involved in the process of drawing up an evidence-based and actionable local skills improvement plan. In the light of what I have said, therefore, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Storey, will feel able to withdraw his amendment and that other noble Lords will not wish to press theirs.
I have received one request to speak after the Minister. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe.
I thank my noble friend for taking so much trouble to answer our questions. It is refreshing even if we do not like every answer. She said something very interesting: that the economic area could even be Greater Manchester. Could the proposed area be one that is supported by the combined mayoral authority in the Greater Manchester area or some other combined mayoral authority? Secondly, I do not think she answered my question. Could I see a specimen local skills improvement plan before we move to Report? That would be very helpful in feeling assured that the system was really going to work as intended.
Yes, as I have said, in the process of bidding for the trailblazers, we have allowed local geographic areas to define themselves as the economic area. So, it could be the mayoral combined authority for Greater Manchester, or it might be that parts of the north of that area decide that they are going to be in an area with somewhere else. We have not prescribed that. We have allowed that local decision-making, and we are not dictating from the centre. We would be criticised if we were to do that. It is up to that geography to define itself. I will have to come back to my noble friend on a model plan. We will be publishing the trailblazer plans during that pilot, but I will write to my noble friend about any other model plan.
My Lords, I thank all Members for their wise contributions and the Minister for her very detailed replies. I thought the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, really put her finger on it when she said, “I am not confident we’ve got the relationships right.” This is not—and I look directly at the Minister—about those pesky politicians or those pushy colleges wanting to get their hands on the levers of provision. This is about making sure this works. We support the Bill, we want the Bill to be successful, and we want these plans to work. All the contributions that noble Lords have made indicate that we have reservations about the way these plans are going to be drawn up. I was taken with my noble friend Lady Garden’s comment about when she was at City and Guilds. It was trying to get employers to come forward and was asking, “What skills do you want?” They did not have a clue. If you think “We will just give a sop to consultation”, people will feel that they are not properly involved. At the beginning, we heard the noble Lord, Lord Patel, say it gives too much power to a small group. That feeling will be there, and people will not feel engaged and will not want this to be success. So, I hope that in Committee and on Report, the Minister will consider the wise words of Members and we can have a system—if that is the right phrase—that will deliver what we all want. That is really important, as is, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, said, that we have those proper checks and balances.
To finish, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, will be pleased that business and politicians can work together. Liverpool gave the freedom of the city to Terry Leahy. There you go: an arch-capitalist being lauded by the Lib Dem council at the time. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 5 withdrawn.
Amendments 6 and 7 not moved.